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San Diego nets first conviction under new ghost guns ordinance

At San Diego Police Department headquarters on July 14, 2021 in San Diego, officers presented a ghost handgun that was previously confiscated. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

San Diego recently netted its first conviction under the city’s ordinance barring anyone from having ghost guns, the City Attorney’s Office said Friday.

A 23-year-old man pleaded guilty last month to three misdemeanor charges linked to a December incident in which he tossed the gun as he ran from police, the office said in a news release.

His arrest happened two months after an ordinance banning possession of the non-serialized guns went into effect.

Ghosts guns are do-it-yourself firearms assembled by hand from parts that often come in prepackaged kits. Because the parts — like an unfinished gun frame — are not classified as guns, they have no serial numbers. Anyone can legally buy the parts.

San Diego police say officers are coming across them more often. The department confiscated 77 ghost guns in 2019. Last year, they seized 545 ghost guns — a sevenfold increase.

Last year, the city passed the Eliminate Non-serialized Untraceable Firearm, or E.N.U.F., ordinance, making it illegal to buy and sell gun parts in the city that lack serial numbers and thus cannot be traced by law enforcement.

The City Attorney’s Office put the new ordinance to use after the 23-year-old man was arrested in December.

“The City’s novel ghost gun ordinance is an effective tool for removing untraceable firearms from the hands of criminals,” City Attorney Mara Elliott said.

According to Elliott’s office, the man sped off when police tried to pull him over for not stopping at a stop sign Dec. 29. After short chase, he ditched his car and ran.

He tossed the gun and hid in a shed in a nearby backyard for 45 minutes before officers found him.

On April 28, he pleaded guilty in San Diego Superior Court to evading police, carrying a concealed gun and possession of a non-serialized firearm.

Councilmember Marni von Wilpert introduced the ordinance last year after a man opened fire on strangers in the Gaslamp Quarter, killing one and injuring four. Police said the suspect — who was prohibited from possessing guns — used a ghost gun.

“It’s clear from this conviction that San Diego’s landmark ghost gun law is starting to work to stop the proliferation of dangerous, untraceable firearms in our community,” said von Wilpert.

The ordinance does not apply to guns that are inoperable, antique or made before 1968. A violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor.

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© 2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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