Op-Ed: My daughter lost her life in a ‘ghost gun’ shooting. It’s time to regulate homemade firearms

A mourner places flowers at a memorial for victims of the Nov. 14, 2019, Saugus High School shooting.
Madison Hekking, 20, a graduate of Saugus High School, places flowers at a memorial for victims of the Nov. 14, 2019, campus shooting.
(Los Angeles Times)

On the morning of last Nov. 14, my daughter, Gracie Anne Muehlberger, was standing in the courtyard of Saugus High School, a ticket to her first high school dance in hand. A fellow student who had just turned 16 that day entered Gracie’s campus carrying a homemade .45-caliber firearm — a weapon, I have come to learn, that is called a “ghost gun.”

After spending nearly 45 minutes waiting for more children to arrive, the shooter opened fire at 7:38 a.m., shooting his ghost gun directly into the back of my beautiful daughter Gracie. She was only 15.

Within one second, the murderer quickly cleared a jam from his gun and continued firing, killing another child, 14-year-old Dominic Michael Blackwell, and wounding three other innocent children, including the best friends of Gracie and Dominic. The U.S. Secret Service told us that Gracie and Dominic’s murderer was the youngest person to carry out a mass attack in 2019.

In eight short seconds, Gracie’s life and Dominic’s life were taken. Our lives, the lives of the Blackwells, the lives of so many young children at this school, their families, and our small community were changed forever. I’m sharing my story in the hope of preventing future tragedies and sparing other families the pain that mine has experienced.


Many will say that there were a multitude of factors that contributed to this horrible and life-altering tragedy, including mental illness, poor gun storage and family trouble. But the ease with which anyone — and I mean anyone — can obtain a lethal firearm was incomprehensible to me.

Until that tragic day, I had never even heard of a ghost gun — an untraceable firearm with no serial number that is designed to be assembled by the buyer. Anyone can buy a totally unregulated ghost gun kit with just an internet connection and a credit card.

At any gun show, you can buy a gun with no serial number — as long as you’re willing to assemble it yourself using simple instructions.

Nov. 3, 2019

One of the main components included in these kits — called the “frame” for handguns and the “receiver” for long guns — is regulated as a gun, requiring a background check and a serial number. But the companies selling these kits claim their frames or receivers are only 80% complete, so those regulations don’t apply. To the untrained eye, an 80% frame looks identical to a fully finished frame. The only differences are a couple of missing holes that need to be drilled and a couple of spots that need to be filed down — all easily completed with a basic toolkit.

But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has accepted these claims and allows ghost gun kits to be sold with absolutely no federal regulation, making it extremely easy to order a kit online and create a fully functioning firearm.

This must change.

I joined a lawsuit with Frank Blackwell — Dominic’s father — along with California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, Giffords Law Center and the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, to demand that the ATF change its definition of what qualifies as a firearm under federal law.

We’re suing the ATF because it’s unconscionable for the agency to maintain that the unfinished pistol frames and rifle receivers used to make untraceable ghost guns are not subject to the same regulations as other firearms. My hope is that the court directs the ATF to classify so-called 80% frames and receivers as firearms subject to federal firearms statutes and regulations.

As a gun owner myself, I don’t want people who are legally prohibited from owning firearms to be able to get them so damn easily. I worry every day that my family could once again become victims of gun violence. I have to carry this worry with me daily because the ATF has completely failed to regulate ghost guns and stop these deadly weapons at their source.


The companies that are selling ghost gun kits are selling guns, plain and simple. Some might call these kits tools for hobbyists — fine. But because anyone can buy them without any additional oversight, this is a problem that deserves the full attention of our leaders.

The federal government must recognize the obvious point here instead of failing us like they failed my beautiful, vibrant, full-of-life daughter, Gracie. I hope that if they do, other families won’t have to suffer the pain and loss and heartache that my family has experienced and continues to experience every single waking day of our lives.

Bryan Muehlberger is the father of Gracie Anne Muehlberger, who was killed in a mass shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita. He is the founder of the GracieStrong Foundation and the SpeakTFUP! Project.