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Unserialized ‘Ghost Guns’ a Growing Concern in Pasadena

Over 10% of guns seized this year were unmarked

Published on Sunday, September 13, 2020 | 9:24 am
 
A 9mm, unserialized “ghost gun” recovered by police from a repeat felon at the end of a short pursuit in Pasadena on Sept. 4, 2020. (Credit: Pasadena Police Department)

Police have noted encountering a rising number of guns on the streets of Pasadena this year, and a growing proportion of them have been unserialized, unregistered firearms commonly known as “ghost guns,” which can be easily and cheaply obtained without a background check, even in a state with some of the nation’s most restrictive gun control legislation.

Of 212 guns seized by officers this year, 23 of them — or just over 10% — have been the unserialized variety, which are often sold as incomplete kits that can be quickly and easily completed by the buyers.

“These types of guns are becoming more and more popular and more and more accessible,” Pasadena police Lt. William Grisafe said.

While the department has no interest in infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners, “It is a concern of ours that these guns can’t get into anyone’s hands,” he said. And that includes those prohibited from possessing guns, such as convicted felons.

The organization Everytown for Gun Safety has described the spectre of “ghost guns” as “the fastest-growing gun safety problem facing our country.

While California law requires measures such as background checks, a firearm safety test, registration and a 10-day waiting period to purchase a gun, so-called ‘ghost guns’ are sold, legally, without any such restrictions.

Often advertised as “80%-complete kits,” firearm frames or lower receivers, which are the only portion of a firearm legally required to be registered under state law, can be legally sold and shipped into California under the reasoning that they are not complete firearms, but rather just raw materials. Numerous types of guns are available in this manner, from pistols to rifles.

The buyer is then able to complete the frame or lower receiver through a simple and speedy process, many times requiring little more than the drilling of a few holes. Sales of the rest of the needed parts, such as a barrel, recoil spring and other pieces, are not regulated by state or federal authorities.

Under California law, those who build a gun from a kit are required to register it with the Department of Justice, obtain a serial number and affix it to the weapon. And in instances where that is the case, Grisafe said police have no issue,

But Grisafe said there’s essentially no way to stop a convicted felon or other prohibited person from completing the firearm and simply not registering it. Police are most likely to encounter the unserialized guns after finding them being carried.

The apparent growing popularity of unserialized kit guns is likely simply due to them becoming better known, particularly among those who either cannot legally possess a firearm or do not want to comply with registration law and other gun control measures.

Legislation has been enacted to deal with the issue at the state level, but won’t take effect until 2024.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 879, authored by Rep. Mike Gipson (D-Carson), into law in October. It mandates that by 2024, sales of all “firearms precursor parts” be conducted through a licensed vendor.

At the federal level, California senators Barbara Feinstein and Kamala Harris joined with 13 other senators in May to introduce the Untraceable Firearms Act, seeking to ban kit guns or “ghost guns” at the national level.

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