California cities are stepping up their efforts to try to stem the flow of so-called ghost weapons into their jurisdictions, as DIY guns appear with increasing frequency at homicide scenes, traffic stops, and gun buybacks on the street. community.
As state and federal laws aimed at making ghost weapons comply with traditional firearm laws await implementation, local officials and prosecutors throughout California are increasingly turning to bans and lawsuits to regulate guns in their homes. cities.
On September 7, San Francisco became the first city in California to pass a ban in phantom weapons: weapons constructed from firearm parts sold without serial numbers, making them difficult to trace. The measure prohibits the sale of non-serialized weapons and gun parts by unlicensed dealers.
A week after the San Francisco board of supervisors unanimously approved his ban, the San Diego city council voted 8-1 to codify one of their own. That ordinance prohibits the sale of non-serialized products. frames and receivers, two essential parts of firearms, and requires retailers to complete a background check on customers who purchase the parts.
“Ghost guns are the future of the industry and we will have to catch up with our legal interventions,” said San Diego City Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert, who introduced the ban. “We are trying to pressure the manufacturers not to allow the people who have been banned from buying these weapons.”
San Diego police said they had recovered 211 ghost weapons in 2020, up from 77 in 2019. This year, they have already collected at least 360, according to the department. In April, a gunman used a ghost pistol to kill a person and wounded four others in the city’s bustling Gaslamp district.
In San Francisco, police found 97 ghost weapons in 2019 and 164 in 2020, according to the city’s police department. So far this year, at least 150 ghost weapons have passed through the city’s crime lab, according to the San Francisco district attorney’s office.
In addition to the bans, cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are suing ghost gun manufacturers and distributors. About Alleged Deceptive Business Practices. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin sued three online retailers of ghost gun kits in August, alleging false advertising and violating California business competition statutes.
“We are waiting [our lawsuit] it will be a deterrent and establish jurisprudence that will make it easier to control these shell companies, “Boudin told The Guardian. “We are trying to get ahead of the problem so that we have fewer victims and fewer things to process.”
The goal of the lawsuit, Boudin said, was to make companies that sell gun kits explain the legal responsibilities their potential customers have once they buy and assemble a kit. Under California law, once someone builds a weapon, they must register it with the state department of justice and serialize it. But Boudin alleges that these stores do not alert customers to this.
The legal action “attempts to turn the tables on manufacturers and distributors who claim to be above the law, while their clients are the ones who deal with prosecution and gun violence,” said Hannah Shearer, director of litigation at the Giffords Law Center. to Prevent Gun Violence. . The law office is partnering with Boudin’s office on the city’s lawsuit.
“The problem is that the use of ghost weapons has expanded dramatically and companies are operating in a regulatory vacuum,” Boudin said. “City officials and DAs have not been able to keep up with the policies that could control these companies.”
Buyers of parts are generally not required to pass a background check. Non-serialized DIY firearms were once a niche market, mostly assembled by hobbyists and gun enthusiasts. But in recent years weapons have been used in school shootings, acts of internal terrorism, and the gun violence every day that most affects low-income Black and Latino communities.
“The bullets don’t have names and now the guns don’t have serial numbers,” said Rudy Corpuz of United Playaz, a community gun violence prevention program in San Francisco.
Corpuz says he started noticing non-serialized weapons showing up in his organization’s annual gun buybacks a few years ago and now sees them regularly. He has been a vocal supporter of Boudin’s lawsuit and the recently enacted ban, speaking during the press conference to announce the city ordinance in May.
“This takes a lot of courage. You’re pushing the water uphill and going against the real profits, ”Corpuz said of the actions of city officials. “But everything is done in the spirit of saving lives and preventing people from going to jail, especially black and brown people, who enter at an alarming rate.”
Efforts at the city level come as a California law that would treat kit sales in a manner similar to traditional firearms will take effect in the summer of 2022. At the federal level, the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco has proposed a new rule that would broaden the definition of what considers a firearm, establishing federal rules for homemade weapons.
But some cities have argued that they can’t wait until those efforts start to have an impact. “Local governments are not trying to wait another year before we have meaningful protections,” said Ari Freilich, director of state policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, of recent bans and lawsuits.
“These weapons already exist, but it is important to ban them and address them through lawsuits to hinder future sales,” Shearer said.
While officials and attorneys admit they are behind in regulating ghost weapons and those who make and sell them, they are hopeful that bans and lawsuits may still make a dent in the decline in homicides. “When it comes to these weapons, everyone plays their part and we need every piece of the puzzle,” said United Playaz’s Corpuz.
“Every level of government is behind the ball on ghost weapons, and I hope one day every city will have a similar ordinance,” said Wilpert of the San Diego city council.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism