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San Diego City Council Passes "Ghost Gun" Ordinance To Crack Down On Gun Violence

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The San Diego City Council Monday passed an ordinance intended to crack down on firearms without individual serial numbers — so called "ghost guns" — and work to combat their proliferation on the streets.

Speaker 1: 00:00 A new ordinance against so-called ghost guns past the San Diego city council Monday, the new law would forbid the sale and possession of gun frames that don't have an identifying serial number. San Diego police say they've seen a significant increase in the number of ghost guns, which can be bought on the internet and assembled without background checks, advocates of the band say the untraceable guns are often used by criminals and others who can't obtain weapons. Legally here's Steven Abrams of team enough, a youth gun violence prevention group speaking at yesterday city council meeting as a minor.

Speaker 2: 00:39 At the time I purchased all the parts of a ghost gun kit, uh, that were shipped directly to my house and we've documented the whole process and the craziest part about it. It was all completely legal. Joining

Speaker 1: 00:51 Me is San Diego city council member of Marnie Von Wilpert who introduced the measure to band ghost guns. Marnie, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me today. How big a problem do you believe ghost guns are in San Diego?

Speaker 3: 01:06 Well, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, a ghost gun is a term for a homemade personally manufactured firearm that lacks commercial serial numbers and can easily become untraceable. These unregulated ghost guns are made at home using unfinished frames and receivers, which are the lower parts of a gun and can be easily assembled into fully functional firearms in minutes. So the reason I brought this ordinance forward is the mass shooting that we saw downtown San Diego in the Gaslamp district on April 22nd of this year, this shooting was perpetrated by a man who was prohibited from legally buying a gun due to his violent criminal history. So he obtained an untraceable ghost gun to commit this crime. I then asked the San Diego police department to provide a report to the city council on ghost guns to see what was actually going on in our streets. And that's when we found out how much of a problem ghost guns have become the police reported. They have seen a 169% increase in the number of ghost guns confiscated by law enforcement. And

Speaker 1: 02:14 What specifically does this new city ordinance prohibit?

Speaker 3: 02:18 So this ordinance attempts to attack this problem at its source, by preventing people from selling, buying, transporting the parts needed to assemble an illegal ghost gun at home. These are the unfinished frames and unfinished receivers, which are the lower parts of the weapon. Normally those are the parts that would be serialized. If these were fully assembled firearms sold by a licensed firearm manufacturer or dealer. So this ordinance seeks to only allow pre serialized unfinished frames and unfinished receivers in the city of San Diego. That way we will make sure that we treat these unfinished and receivers just like every other firearm requiring background checks, waiting periods so that we know who's purchasing them and we prevent them from falling into the wrong hands and watch the

Speaker 1: 03:10 Penalty for obtaining one of the ghost guns that does not have a serial number. So

Speaker 3: 03:16 Under the city ordinance, the penalty can be charged at the discretion of the police and the prosecutors as anywhere from in an infraction all the way up until a misdemeanor. Uh, it could be a penalty of a thousand dollar fine or up to six months in prison. Now, critics

Speaker 1: 03:32 Of this measure say since many peoples who obtain ghost guns, want to use them for criminal acts. They're not going to care if possessing one is a misdemeanor, what's your response. So

Speaker 3: 03:44 This is why we're trying to attack the problem at its source. You know, trying to prevent these ghost gun parts from entering the city without serial numbers in the first place. So that's the point of this ordinance is to bring these unfinished frames and unfinished receivers, which people are using to assemble ghost guns and require them to be sold with a serial number ahead of time so that it makes it harder for these parts to get into the hands of people who I want to commit crimes with them. And the reason we did this is because it's a loophole in the law. We actually worked not only with San Diego police department on this ordinance. We also worked with attorneys from the California department of justice. We worked with a gentleman named Steve Lindley, who was previously the chief of the firearms bureau for the California department of justice.

Speaker 3: 04:36 He explained to us that we do need to close this loophole here in San Diego, because under California state law currently a lawful responsible gun owner can purchase a non serialized unfinished frame or receiver, and then seek to get a serial number from the California department of justice. We know that criminals are not taking that step. So by requiring ahead of time, these serial numbers to be affixed to the unfinished frames and receivers, not only does that mean that lawful purchasers will already have complied with California state law, but we're going to prevent a lot of these parts that are untraceable from the get-go from even entering San Diego in the first place,

Speaker 1: 05:18 Seems like it would take a national effort to get at the root of the issue and get the guns off the internet. Do you agree?

Speaker 3: 05:26 Yes, Maureen, I do agree that we need every level of government to act, to prevent gun violence that we're seeing rising nationally, not just here in San Diego. Luckily the state and the federal government are also taking action. And one of the things president Biden is doing is to do a rulemaking change to classify unfinished frames and receivers as firearms that will allow our national background checks, ATF, all the other regulations we have in place to kick in on a federal level, the of California will have new regulations go into effect requiring only face to face transactions for purchasing unfinished trains or receivers in July of 2022. But since we've seen the rise in gun violence here in San Diego, including crimes perpetrated with people who have ghost guns, I knew that we couldn't wait and we had to act at the city level to start saving lives today while we have the national and the state levels working in conjunction with us. And when

Speaker 1: 06:28 Do you expect the new San Diego city ordinance on ghost guns to go into effect?

Speaker 3: 06:33 So under our S our city charter, we have to have two readings of every law, unless it's an emergency ordinance. And since we're going on legislative recess after today's council, the next available hearing is September 14th when we come back. So we will be hearing it again, September 14th, after it's passed on September 14th, the law will go into effect within 30 days. So we do have time to ramp up to do outreach work with gun manufacturers, work with community groups and our police department to let people know that this new ordinance is coming educate folks, and really work to make sure that this is done right, and people aren't caught off guard, but that we can act quicker than the state or federal government to really stem the tide of all of these ghost gun parts, flooding San Diego and the resulting proliferation of ghost guns in our communities.

Speaker 1: 07:23 I've been speaking with San Diego city council member, Marnie Von Wilpert. And thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.