This spring, an individual shot three people in San Francisco, killing two and severely wounding another. The month before, after receiving reports of shots fired and locating more than 30 shell casings, the San Francisco Police Department had arrested the same individual on suspicion of six other firearms offenses. In the earlier case, officers found that the suspect had fired a weapon at another individual before fleeing the scene of the shooting. The weapon in question was a homemade, unregistered, AR-15-style firearm, otherwise known as a ghost gun.
Ghost guns — unserialized firearms created from easy-to-assemble kits that are widely available online — have made it easy for individuals who are otherwise prohibited from owning guns to wreak havoc on our communities. State law currently allows for their sale and possession, and they have only grown in popularity over the past several years. That’s why I introduced the first complete ghost gun ban in California at the Board of Supervisors.
California currently permits venders to sell disassembled ghost gun kits, with the condition that purchasers obtain serial numbers from the California Department of Justice within 10 days of assembly. But people are buying these weapons precisely because they are untraceable, so you can imagine how many people actually comply with this requirement. That means that we are allowing the circulation of firearms with no background checks, no waiting periods, no age restrictions, and no sales records — common-sense regulations that otherwise apply to gun sales across California.
This massive loophole has allowed ghost guns to proliferate on our streets. Let’s be clear: As San Francisco sees rising rates of gun violence, this is a real problem.
In San Francisco, ghost gun seizures increased by 2,700 percent between 2016 and 2020, and they have continued to increase in 2021. In 2016, ghost guns accounted for less than 1 percent of all gun seizures in San Francisco, and last year they made up 16 percent of firearms seized by law enforcement in the city. Ghost gun seizures were up by 350 percent in the first two months of this year, compared to the same period in 2019. Most disturbing, gun violence overall rose by 157 percent between January and May 2021, compared to the same period in 2020.
And it’s not just San Francisco. The California Bureau of Firearms seized 512 percent more ghost guns in 2019 than 2018. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported that 30 percent of guns recovered from crimes in California were ghost guns, and the ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division reported that more than 40 percent of its cases in January 2020 involved ghost guns. Because the sale of ghost guns is legal in California, law enforcement agencies have been left to react to the threat they pose only after a crime has occurred, often in tragic and deadly circumstances.
That ends now.
My ordinance will prohibit anyone from selling or shipping unserialized ghost gun kits to anyone in San Francisco, and forbid anyone from possessing unserialized ghost gun parts obtained from outside the city.
Major manufacturers can currently sell ghost gun kits to anyone, without fear of consequences, and this loophole has invited vendors to turn a blind eye to the risks of selling these weapons. We need to change the status quo that has put manufacturer profits over human lives. My proposal is a novel approach, in that it empowers the city to hold careless vendors accountable by bringing enforcement actions against them.
There are, of course, some obvious limitations to local action to regulate ghost guns. When it comes to gun violence prevention, we are only as safe as the weakest laws in our neighboring jurisdictions, and that phenomenon is magnified at the local level. If cities in Alameda County, for example, decided not to adopt a similar regulatory regime, it’s easy to imagine that someone could skirt San Francisco’s law by simply driving across the Bay Bridge, obtaining a ghost gun, and coming back.
But that’s what has been so exciting about introducing the first ghost gun ban in California: While we push for changes to state and federal laws, we’re working on getting similar regulations implemented in other cities. I have already heard interest from local governments in Berkeley, San Mateo, and San Diego, and I’m confident that this group will only grow as awareness of this issue spreads.
There is also reason to be optimistic about larger-scale change. Gov. Gavin Newsom has pushed the legislature to crack down on ghost guns at the state level, and the Biden-Harris administration has announced a proposed regulation that would require manufacturers to include serial numbers on gun parts included in kits, and vendors to run background checks before selling gun kits. But any state or federal action will require a great deal of time and patience — and, based on recent trends and events, we can’t afford to wait.
Gun violence is not some abstract, distant idea. As we have been reminded by the rise in shootings in San Francisco, alongside recent tragedies in Atlanta and San Jose, gun violence needlessly destroys lives and families across the United States every single day. We all deserve to live in a world free from gun violence, and I’m committed to working tirelessly to make that world a reality.