‘An instrument of death’: The problem of ghost guns in California

"Ghost guns" on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Nov. 15. I’m Justin Ray.

Police departments across California are reporting an increase in “ghost guns.”

The Los Angeles Police Department said in a report released last month that detectives have linked the untraceable weapons to 24 killings, eight attempted homicides and dozens of assaults and armed robberies since January.

During the first half of this year, the department confiscated 863 ghost guns, a nearly 300% increase over the 217 it seized during the same period last year, the report said.

But it’s not just in Los Angeles. In 2020, California accounted for 65% of all ghost guns seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a statement from San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin’s office said.


Here’s everything you need to know about them:

What is a ghost gun?

As we have reported , the weapons are usually made of polymer parts created with 3-D printing technology and can be assembled using kits at home. They often are relatively inexpensive. Because they are not made by licensed manufacturers, they lack serial numbers, making them virtually impossible to track.

Who uses them?

Felons who are banned from possessing firearms because of previous offenses increasingly are turning to ghost guns, LAPD officials have said.

Criminals can circumvent background checks and “within minutes have an instrument of death in their hands,” California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta has said. “It leaves law enforcement in the dark and it leaves all of us less safe.”

Where else in California have they been an issue?

  • Ghost guns have been officially banned in the city of San Diego. In September, Mayor Todd Gloria signed the Eliminate Non-serialized Untraceable Firearm, or E.N.U.F., ordinance, making the guns illegal to buy and sell. The number of ghost guns seized by San Diego police has risen from a handful a few years ago and now represents more than 20% of all firearms officers confiscate, according to the department.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


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Health officials in California and elsewhere, increasingly worried about a potential winter coronavirus surge, are turbocharging the push for COVID-19 booster shots. While federal guidance says adults who are at increased risk of COVID-19 exposure because of where they live or work can get boosters, state and local health officials are urging pharmacies, medical centers and other vaccine distributors to take a more liberal view. That means allowing any adult to get the booster as long as two months have passed since they got a Johnson & Johnson shot, or at least six months since they received a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. In California, only 34% of fully vaccinated seniors age 65 and over have received a booster, as have just 14% of fully vaccinated adults. Los Angeles Times

A pharmacist prepares Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations in Daly City, Calif.
(Associated Press)


Explaining Hollywood: How to get a job as a gaffer. To set the mood of a scene in a movie, TV show or video, filmmakers give the audience plenty of visual cues — through the location, the props, the soundtrack, even the camera angles. But one important and often subtle signal is sent through the lighting, which often involves lamps, shades and filters even when the sun is shining. The way light falls on a character in a scene can set the emotional tone of the story, as can shrouding a characterin darkness. How does one land such a job orchestrating lighting? We talked to experts in the field about what sort of qualities you find in a gaffer and how to start a career in this field. Los Angeles Times

Being a gaffer is part technical, part artistic, said David Goodman, who works as one in Hollywood.
(Illustration by Michelle Rohn for The Times.)

Los Angeles leads growing transition to ‘community schools’ model. In 2019, United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School Districtannounced a contract that capped class sizes and raised teaching salaries. Another part of the deal that received less attention funded 30 LAUSD campuses as community schools, which provide social services to students and families beyond the school day and boost curricula with arts and academic programs. “This approach evolves the school site into a hub for the community where families access health, socio-emotional, mental health and enrichment support for students during and following normal school hours,” LAUSD explains on its website. The community model is gaining traction nationwide. Capital and Main

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California’s state auditor to retire after decades of uncovering billions in mismanagement, fraud. Elaine Howle’s work has led to major state reforms. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called on her when they suspect that state agencies are misusing money or mismanaging operations. . “If we have evidence to say something, I’m going to say it, and I will be the one to take the heat,” Howle said when asked about some of her more contentious audit results. KCRA 3 talked to Howle about her legacy and biggest audit cases. KCRA 3


The owner of a California-based solar energy company has received a 30-year federal prison sentence for bilking investors in a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, prosecutors say. In January 2020, Jeff Carpoff, 50, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. His wife, Paulette Carpoff, has admitted to money laundering and conspiracy to commit an offense against the U.S. Their company, DC Solar, built mobile solar generators for sporting events and music festivals. The company attracted at least a dozen investors, including Warren Buffett, whose company invested $340 million. DC Solar, however, built and leased only a fraction of the roughly 17,000 mobile units it claimed were in use, authorities allege. Instead, DC Solar used money from new investors to pay off old ones. NPR

Law enforcement agencies across California are failing to correctly log guns in a state firearms database. Annually, police and sheriff’s departments statewide recover thousands of firearms, each of which must be entered into the state’s Automated Firearms System (AFS). If officers know or suspect that a gun was used in a crime, they must tag it as evidence and identify it as a “crime” gun, a label that ensures information is routed to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for tracking. But an investigation by The Trace and NBC Bay Area shows that between 2010 and 2020, more than 150 police agencies in California failed to flag more than half of their crime guns for in the database. More than 20 designated no guns as crime guns at all. The Trace

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Nations around the globe pledged to address two threats to Earth’s climate: methane, and the destruction of forests. Both are major contributors to climate change that California has tried — and struggled — to address. California’s methane emissions largely haven’t increased over the last decade, but they also haven’t decreased that much. When it comes to forests, the state is losing the ability of its trees to store planet-warming carbon as wildfires scorch the state. LAist


In the foothills north of Sacramento exists a whites-only church. In interviews with the Sacramento Bee, Asatru’s leaders describe their faith as merely a way for white people to reconnect with an ancient belief system practiced by their European ancestors. They say they don’t advocate violence. The church’s website includes a section that reads: “We are opposed to racial hatred and intimidation, regardless of who practices it. … HAVING SAID THAT (emphasis from the church), we might add that we are not pitiful ethnomasochists, cringing before the court of the politically correct, ready to apologize for living.” Sacramento Bee

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Famous birthdays:

SNL’s Pete Davidson was born Nov. 16, 1993. I don’t think I have dated him, but who can be certain they haven’t dated Pete Davidson?

RuPaul Charles was born Nov. 17, 1960. We recently hosted a conversation with Charles and SNL’s Bowen Yang.

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