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Firearm used in Saugus High School shooting was a ‘ghost gun’

Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif. (Google Maps/Released)
November 22, 2019

The school shooter at Saugus High School in Los Angeles County on Nov. 14 used a “ghost gun” — a firearm assembled from various parts from other firearms without a registration number.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed Thursday detectives are trying to determine who built the .45-caliber handgun used, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is helping to identify how the weapon was made.

“It becomes what’s known as a ghost gun,” Villanueva said, noting it was a “kit gun.”

“You can legally buy [gun kits], assemble the weapon yourself, and then you have a gun that is not registered and no one knows that you have it,” Villanueva added. “And that is very dangerous.”

The shooter, 16-year old Nathan Berhow, died in the hospital on Nov. 15 after a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His motive is unclear at the time of publication.

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It’s unclear who built the weapon, but investigators are examining Berhow’s electronic communications. Police seized a number of firearms in Berhow’s home and his late father, who died in December 2017, owned several firearms.

On his sixteenth birthday, Berhow used the ghost gun in a 16-second rampage, killing 15-year-old Gracie Muehlberger and 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell. Three other students were injured.

“In 16 seconds he cleared a malfunction and was able to shoot five people and himself, so he seemed very familiar with the weapon,” Villanueva said Nov. 14. “It wasn’t a spur of the moment act.”

Brooke Risley, a 16-year-old junior at Saugus High School, said Berhow was quiet and “doesn’t seem like the kind of kid to do this.”

As the community grieves over the tragic incident, Saugus High School will remain closed until Dec. 2, the William S. Hart Union School District announced. The district’s other 15 campuses reopened Monday this week.

After a candlelight vigil on Sunday, there were programs at the school on Wednesday and Thursday to help students cope with their grief.

It’s not known how many ghost guns are in the United States today, but Ginger Colbrun, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles region’s ATF office, said, “About a third of all firearms seized in Southern California now are unserialized, and that is expected to grow.”

Individuals with lengthy criminal histories tend to purchase their firearms on the black market, according to law enforcement.

“That is one of the challenges of law enforcement today,” Villanueva said, “because Congress and state legislatures enact all these crimes about gun registration. But now the gun industry is creating a way to just bypass the entire thing by creating a mechanism to manufacture weapons yourself.”