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California

‘Ghost guns’ let bad guys ignore gun control laws. It’s time to get rid of them

Plastic pistol made using 3-D printer
The gun lobby is fighting California legislation that would eliminate ghost guns by requiring background checks on the purchaser of the firearm’s essential part.
(Jay Janner / Associated Press)

Ghost guns are fast becoming the trendy weapon of choice for bad guys who shouldn’t be allowed near a firearm.

The guns are homemade — either for illegal sale or personal use — unregistered and untraceable by law enforcement.

By using them, dangerous dudes who are barred from legally buying a weapon can avoid California’s tough gun controls. They merely order the parts online and assemble the weapon themselves.

Ghost guns are the killing tools for felons with rap sheets or spousal abusers under restraining orders — the type of mentally messed up shooter who even the National Rifle Assn. preaches should not own a firearm.

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But, of course, the gun lobby is fighting legislation that would eliminate ghost guns by requiring background checks on the purchaser of the firearm’s essential part.

In assault rifles, that part is called the lower receiver. Attached to it are components such as the upper receiver, which houses the barrel, the trigger and ammunition magazine. With a handgun, the core part is called a frame. So there’s no gun without a lower receiver or frame.

Under the legislation, AB 879, the lower receiver or frame would need to be purchased through a licensed gun parts dealer. There’d be a state background check on the buyer. And a serial number would be required. It already is, but that requirement is virtually impossible to enforce.

The California Rifle and Pistol Assn., an NRA affiliate, opposes the bill on grounds it “only complicates the ability of law-abiding citizens to obtain parts needed to repair and upgrade lawfully obtained firearms.”

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That may be, but tough. It also complicates the ability of killers to obtain firearms they’re not allowed to legally possess, and therefore saves lives.

“Ghost guns are law enforcement’s biggest fear because they’re not traceable,” says Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson), the bill’s author. “This is huge.”

State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, the bill’s leading advocate, says “California is a hot spot for ghost guns. They’re becoming more appealing because of how straightforward the process of building one can be with the right tools, parts and instructional videos….

“There have been too many tragedies caused by prohibited persons” — those not allowed to possess firearms — “in possession of a ghost gun.”

There are many bloody examples.

The AR-15 assault rifle that a convicted felon used to kill California Highway Patrol officer Andre Moye and wound two of his colleagues during a recent freeway shootout with police in Riverside was a ghost gun, law enforcement officials told The Times.

A Sacramento man with a long history of domestic violence allegations is charged with firing two AR-15 ghost guns in the recent killing of police officer Tara O’Sullivan. She was answering a domestic violence call.

In 2013, a man killed five people and wounded several more in Santa Monica using an AR-15 that was believed to be a ghost gun. He had a history of mental illness and had previously failed a background check while trying to legally buy a gun.

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There’s a huge market for ghost guns in California. Gangs are big buyers.

Gipson’s bill passed the Assembly in May on pretty much a party-line vote, 45 to 14. All the “yes” votes came from Democrats. Two moderate Democrats joined Republicans in voting “no.” Fourteen Democrats ducked out of voting either way.

Virtually all Republicans always vote with the gun lobby against firearms legislation. Some moderate Democrats from politically competitive districts often do, too — a few for philosophical reasons, but most because they’re afraid of angering gun zealots.

The chief flaw in Gipson’s bill is that it wouldn’t take effect until mid-2024. The attorney general’s bureaucracy claims it needs that much time to set up the program. Really? Aren’t they already doing background checks on gun buyers?

Currently the bill is stuck in the Senate Appropriations Committee, often a graveyard for major legislation. But Gipson is confident he’ll get the measure passed before the Legislature adjourns for the year on Sept. 13.

Lawmakers passed a similar Gipson bill in 2016, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. He contended the measure’s wording was “unduly vague and could have far reaching unintended consequences.” He claimed it “could trigger potential … myriad and serious criminal penalties” for innocent gun owners.

Brown was a self-described canoe-paddling governor — stroking a little on the left and then on the right while keeping a steady course down the middle. This was especially true of gun bills.

New Gov. Gavin Newsom is more committed to gun control and has signaled he wants some bills to sign.

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Another gun proposal that Brown vetoed has been resurrected in the Legislature. The bill, SB 55, would ban gun ownership for 10 years after three drunk driving convictions. It also would apply to anyone guilty of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), the bill’s author, says studies have shown that drunk drivers are five times more likely to misuse firearms than sober motorists.

“We need to take these firearms away from dangerous people,” she says.

Her bill passed the Senate 26-10. But it stalled in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, where the chairman, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), wants to see fresh research linking alcohol and firearms misuse. That’s expected in September. And Jackson is hopeful of passing the legislation in January.

This shouldn’t be too difficult. Booze and guns don’t mix. Get rid of ghost guns. Say “boo” to the NRA.


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