San Diego City Council last Tuesday passed an ordinance targeting ghost guns, making it illegal to buy and sell gun parts in the city that cannot be traced by law enforcement.
Ghosts guns are do-it-yourself firearms assembled by hand from parts that sometimes come in prepackaged kits. The parts are not classified as guns so they have no serial numbers, making them difficult if not impossible for law enforcement to track. Anyone can legally buy the parts.
The ordinance prohibits buying, selling or possessing the frame of an unfinished gun unless it has a serial number — treating the unfinished firearm part just like a completed firearm. A violation of the ordinance will be a misdemeanor. It does not apply to guns that are inoperable, antique or made before 1968.
The City Council voted 8-1 to approve the Eliminate Non-serialized Untraceable Firearm, or E.N.U.F., ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Marni von Wilpert. Tuesday’s results mirrored the initial vote from the council when it first considered the ordinance last month. Ordinances must receive two readings and approvals before they can pass into law.
After the vote, Mayor Todd Gloria tweeted “kudos” to von Wilpert and indicated he would sign the ordinance, which would go into effect 30 days after he signs it.
“Gun violence, and specifically the proliferation of ghost guns, is a huge concern for our city,” Gloria tweeted.
Last year, officers impounded 211 ghost guns. San Diego police project the number will double this year. The department has seized 328 ghost guns so far this year.
San Diego police Chief David Nisleit has been sounding alarms for months about the increasing prevalence of ghost guns in the city, and in July announced that the department had created a team focused on investigating and stopping illegal sales of the weapons.
After the hearing, von Wilpert released a statement thanking her colleagues for their votes.
“The spread of untraceable ‘ghost guns’ is fueling gun violence in our City and today’s vote will help keep firearms out of the hands of people who pose danger to our communities — including violent criminals, domestic abusers, individuals suffering from mental illness, and terrorists,” von Wilpert said in the statement.
Councilmember Chris Cate was the sole dissenting vote. He did not make a statement before casting his ‘no’ vote Tuesday. However, when voting “no” last month, he said the ban’s potential impact on law-abiding gun owners was somewhat unclear, and he also cast doubt on its effectiveness at keeping criminals from getting their hands on guns.
California requires completed firearms to have a serial number. Under current state law, once a person builds a gun, they must apply to the state Department of Justice for a serial number for the firearm.
Michael Schwartz, executive director of the San Diego County Gun Owners Association, called the ordinance vague and “ridiculously ineffective.”
Schwartz said the ordinance effectively bans anyone in San Diego — even law-abiding gun owners — from getting the gun parts. That, he said, is because there is no process in place to put a serial number on the gun frame in the kit before it is assembled.
“It’s like saying you can buy any car you want as long as it flies,” he said.
There are other regulations coming for ghost guns. Starting in July, California will require licensed vendors to handle the sale or transfer of unfinished gun frames, and that includes face-to-face background checks.
Ghost guns account for more than 21 percent of the 1,535 firearms seized in San Diego since the start of the year, and department officials say they often find them in the hands of people legally prohibited from have a firearm.
Von Wilpert has said she decided to pursue a local ordinance in April, after gunman shot and killed a valet — prosecutors say the crime was unprovoked — in the Gaslamp Quarter, then opened fire on a group of revelers, injuring four.
Police said the accused shooter was a felon and thus barred from possessing weapons. They said he used a ghost gun in the attack.
In July, San Diego police shot and killed a 22-year-old man suspected in a shooting earlier that night in the Rolando neighborhood. Authorities said he had a ghost gun.
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