The San Francisco District Attorney on Wednesday sued three online retailers for selling “ghost guns,” untraceable firearms that can be made from DIY kits, as part of an increasing nationwide effort to curb the flow of deadly homemade firearms. guns to American cities.
In a civil complaint filed in the California Superior Court, District Attorney Chesa Boudin accused the companies – GS Performance, Blackhawk Manufacturing Group and MDX Corporation – of marketing a range of products in the state that provide buyers with parts and accessories. that can be quickly assembled into a functional firearm.
The lawsuit alleges that the companies, which explicitly claim their products comply with federal and state laws, are targeting buyers who want to purchase weapons without traceable serial numbers and to evade criminal background checks. The plaintiffs are seeking to prohibit the sale of such parts.
The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
As the popularity of ghost guns grows across the country, California has seen a particularly dramatic increase in the use of untraceable firearms in shootings that has coincided with an overall spike in gun-related crimes.
“Ghost guns are a huge problem in San Francisco — they are increasingly involved in murders, attempted murders and firearms assaults,” said Boudin, who filed the lawsuit in conjunction with the gun control group founded by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
“We know that the increase in gun violence is related to the proliferation of and easy access to weapons that are untraceable, weapons that are easier to obtain by people who would otherwise be prohibited by law from obtaining them,” he added.
According to the California Department of Public Health, the homicide rate in California increased by about 27 percent to about 2,300 between 2019 and 2020, the largest increase in decades.
In 2020, 44 percent of guns recovered in San Francisco homicide cases were ghost weapons, compared to just 6 percent in 2019, police chief Bill Scott told the city’s board of trustees in May.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Police Department chief Michel Moore told reporters that phantom weapons — composed of parts that can be bought for hundreds of dollars — now account for one-third of all weapons recovered by his department.
In May, Attorney General Merrick Garland proposed closing a loophole in federal regulations that has allowed the sale of weapon components used in homemade kits on the grounds that individual parts, when sold separately, are not constitute a working “firearm” subject to the same rules as licensed handguns.
“Criminals and others who are prohibited from possessing a weapon should not be able to exploit a loophole to bypass background checks and escape detection by law enforcement,” Mr. Garland said at the time, adding that the change “ would make it easier for law enforcement to track down weapons that have been used to commit violent crimes.”
But the process of reviewing and implementing the new rule is taking months, and local governments, gun control groups and crime victims are eager to take immediate action as the crisis deepens.
Earlier this month, two Los Angeles County sheriffs who were badly injured in an ambush sued Polymer80, a Nevada company that is the largest manufacturer of ghost weapon parts, for selling an “untraceable self-assembled weapons package” to a felon accused of shooting the officers as they sat in a patrol car in Compton last September.
In February, the City of Los Angeles and Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued Polymer80 after a 16-year-old student used the company’s branded parts in a shooting at Saugus High School. those three children dead.
The company has responded by saying that its products are not “firearms” as defined by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and thus do not require serial numbers or background checks.
“While the indictment cites definitions for ‘firearm’ and ‘pistol’ under federal law, it does not adequately explain how defendants’ products meet the various technical elements of each of those definitions,” wrote Sean A. Brady, attorney for the company in response. to the suit in Los Angeles.
Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, have opposed Mr. Garland’s proposed rule change, arguing it violates Second Amendment rights that will restrict legal trade in gun parts.
But the San Francisco lawsuit, and others like it, alleges that companies selling components used in ghost weapons are engaged in deceptive business practices and should be stopped.
“All these players are guilty,” said Hannah Shearer, the trial director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “These kits are designed to be untraceable and everyone knows that.”