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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva calls for increased regulation of ‘ghost gun’ parts

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, shown at L.A.'s Hall of Justice in 2019
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, shown in 2019, tells “60 Minutes” that the number of ghost guns turning up in his department’s investigations has risen 50% over the last year.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva calls for increased regulation of “ghost gun” parts in an interview to be broadcast Sunday night on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Ghost guns, also known as kit guns or 80-percent guns, are virtually untraceable weapons that can be made at home using legally purchased parts to complete the 80% already assembled. They are sold at gun shows and online.

The unfinished parts are not required under federal law to have serial numbers or a background check to purchase.

A ghost gun was used in the Nov. 14 shooting attack at Saugus High School that killed two students and wounded three others before the 16-year-old shooter turned the gun on himself and later died, Villanueva said shortly after the shooting.

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Under a bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 11, the sale of firearm precursor parts would be required to be conducted by or processed through a licensed firearm-precursor-part vendor effective July 1, 2024. Other states also have moved to restrict the sale of ghost gun parts, but Villanueva says that’s not the solution.

“You can just defeat it by going to another state,” Villanueva said.

He also told the CBS News magazine the number of ghost guns turning up in investigations by his department had gone up 50% over the past year.

The report includes an interview with the father of Gracie Muehlberger, a 15-year-old girl killed in the Saugus High School shooting.

“Up to that day, I never heard the term ‘ghost gun,’ so I didn’t even know what that was,” Bryan Muehlberger said. “I’m not against owning guns, but I also believe strongly that this is a serious problem that’s occurring that no one knew about.

“So, I feel like something needs to be done. It’s just — it’s become too easy.”

Law enforcement officers involved in the case said they believed the weapon used in the Saugus shooting had originally belonged to the late father of the shooter, who turned to ghost guns after having his own firearms confiscated after a psychiatric detention.

Correspondent Bill Whitaker and his team spent a year and a half on the investigation, according to CBS, including interviewing local and national law enforcement figures. They said sales of parts used to complete ghost guns were on the rise, along with traditional firearms, across the nation during the coronavirus pandemic.

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“60 Minutes” producers were able to order a kit with everything someone would need to build their own 9mm handgun.

Thomas Chittum, assistant director of field operations for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told Whitaker the ease of purchasing the parts made it challenging to keep them out of the hands of people not allowed to possess firearms.

When asked by Whitaker how many of the untraceable guns were on the streets, Chittum responded, “I have no idea.”


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