Number of ‘ghost guns’ seized by San Diego police on pace to double last year’s take

Silhouette of a man holding two long guns
An agent poses with homemade rifles, or “ghost guns,” at an ATF field office in Glendale in 2017.
(Associated Press )

‘Ghost guns,’ which are assembled at home and are usually untraceable, are becoming more prolific in San Diego, police say in a new report.


San Diego police are on pace this year to nearly double the number of “ghost guns” — firearms that are assembled by hand and are usually untraceable — that they impounded last year, according to a new report on the proliferation of such weapons in the city.

Police have gone from seizing an average of 17.6 ghost guns a month last year to an average of 35.6 a month this year, according to a report San Diego police provided to a member of the City Council. Of every five guns police seize, one is a ghost gun.

The report says the consensus among investigators in the department’s Special Operations Unit is that 90% of the ghost guns police found were made by “a small group of people” who sell the guns through social media.


The five-page overview came at the request of Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert, who last month asked Chief David Nisleit for a report on proliferation of such weapons and the enforcement efforts targeting them.

Ghosts guns are firearms assembled by hand from parts that sometimes come in prepackaged kits, which are legal. Because the parts are not classified as guns, they have no serial numbers, making them difficult if not impossible to trace.

The report, which Wilpert released Friday, says most of the ghost guns San Diego police seized were taken from people whose criminal convictions would prevent them from passing a background check, and from people with mental illness who have been prohibited from having guns.

The report states that the department believes the numbers will continue to rise without legislation targeting the loopholes that allow the buying and assembling of the weapons.

Wilpert said she is working with the city attorney’s office “to bring forward an ordinance to close this loophole and keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”

Ghost gun numbers are on the rise. According to San Diego police, they accounted for 53 of the nearly 2,300 guns officers seized in 2018.


Last year, officers impounded 211 ghost guns, close to triple what they seized in 2019.

This year through the end of May, San Diego police seized 178 ghost guns. They project that number will increase to 427 by the end of the year.

Nisleit’s report noted that San Diego police executed several search warrants last year related to assembling and selling the guns. Among them was a September search linked to two brothers who may have sold “dozens, if not hundreds, of firearms.”

In a recent statement, Nisleit said the “number of illegally owned and unserialized guns” that police are finding is concerning.

“SDPD officers are aware of what we are seeing throughout the city and will continue to take a proactive approach to getting these guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals to keep San Diegans safe,” he said.

On April 22, a parking valet was shot to death and four tourists were wounded in a shooting in the Gaslamp Quarter. Authorities said the accused shooter, a felon barred from having firearms, used a ghost gun.

Nisleit’s report points to that shooting and others, including a February incident in Bay Terraces in which police found 60 shell casings in the parking lot of an apartment complex, and evidence that one bullet pierced the bedroom window of a sleeping child. They arrested at least two people after a car chase that ended with a crash. In the vehicle, officers found a 9-millimeter ghost gun. The car was linked to a homicide the Sheriff’s Department was investigating.


In 2018, police and firefighters checking on a reported fire at a Rolando apartment were met with bullets when they entered the residence. Two officers were shot, and the ensuing SWAT standoff ended with the suspect dead. He had a criminal history barring him from having guns, but he was found with a semiautomatic AR rifle-style ghost gun.

Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.