Ghost guns are homemade firearms without serial numbers, sometimes built from kits or 3D printers. Easy to order online and assemble, and virtually untraceable, these guns have become increasingly popular in violent crimes, according to Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.
"In 2015, we recovered four ghost guns in our county. Last year, 293 — an exponential increase," Rosen said during a news conference last week. "These guns are not being made by hobbyists who are making them for fun. These guns are made and sold on the streets to criminals who are using them all acquired in a transaction that is completely without regulation."
In February, Rosen's office announced three people had been arrested for running a gun factory in a house in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood. According to the DA, law enforcement recovered more than eight rifles, two handguns, firearm parts and three 3D printers. Rosen said San Jose police recently killed a suspected carjacker who fired on them with an unserialized, handmade gun.
"They are a problem because you can make them at home, with DIY kits and parts," San Jose Police Department spokesperson Christian Camarillo said. "Many prohibited persons, felons for example, are being arrested with ghost guns."
Citing statistics from the city, county Supervisor Cindy Chavez said at the news conference there was a 400% increase between 2020 and 2021 of incidents in which minors were arrested in possession of homemade guns.
California state law already makes it a misdemeanor to own an unserialized firearm, and even manufacturers of 3D printed guns must apply for a serial number from the state Department of Justice before completing a gun. A law going into effect in July tightens the requirements for selling certain firearm parts.
Santa Clara County wouldn't be the first in California to pass a ban on unserialized, homemade guns. Last year, San Diego County approved an ordinance prohibiting 3D printing of firearms or parts and the possession of the unregulated guns. San Francisco and Los Angeles also passed similar laws last year.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee hopes the county will go a little further, partnering with law enforcement to aggressively pursue and shut down ghost-gun makers.
San Jose resident Dave Truslow, a National Rifle Association firearm instructor, told San Jose Spotlight bans on ghost guns seem to be in vogue across California. He said these ordinances are not effective at reducing gun violence, noting it's already illegal under state and federal law to transfer or sell an unserialized firearm.
"It will serve absolutely no purpose," Truslow said. "I'm angered and frustrated because there's so many things that could be done to improve public safety and reduce violence, and this is just a convenient distraction that is nothing more than virtue signaling."
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For a deeper dive into the issue of ghost guns along the Peninsula, read the Palo Alto Weekly/Redwood City Pulse investigative article "'Astronomical' rise in ghost guns has law enforcement worried" at tinyurl.com/SCCghostguns.
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