NBC 7 has been closely tracking a controversial firearm with a fast-growing footprint in our county: Ghost guns.
At the direction of President Biden, the Justice Department just proposed new regulations that would ban untraceable homemade guns. But law enforcement in North County worries they're already in the wrong hands.
Last year, the North County Gang Commission cited law enforcement concerns in San Marcos, Vista, Fallbrook and Carlsbad – all concerned about ghost guns as a weapon of choice for gangs.
“They have the tools now to commit violent felonies," said Sgt. Albert Carrillo, who works out of the San Diego County Sheriff station in San Marco.
Carrillo said people with prior violent convictions, and who are suspected gang members typically can't walk into a gun store and buy a weapon. A ghost gun changes that.
“What keeps me up is the possibility of them using those guns on deputies or innocent people,” Carrillo said.
And that has the family of 15-year-old Annebell Flores - terrified.
“It was shocking,” said Flores’ grandfather, Robert Espinosa, sitting outside his Oceanside home. “I was at work, I got the phone call, I just broke down, I couldn’t even walk. Still to this day, I think about it, I get weak in the knees because she was my baby.”
Flores was on the playground a park in Oceanside, when she was shot and killed by the crossfire between rival gang members.
“She wasn’t in a gang,” says Espinosa. “She didn’t do drugs. The only bad thing she did was being born in this neighborhood.”
Espinosa has spent the years since Annebell's death working to curb gun violence. He had a lot to say about ghost guns.
“You know this is ridiculous with people buying guns in the mail,” said Espinosa. “That doesn’t make no sense. That’s the federal government mail. Regulate that stuff you guys. They’re plastic. Anybody can get them. People are getting shot everywhere. Children are getting shot.”
So the notion that gang members are able to able get their hands on ghost guns, doesn't sit well with him.
“We are the adults,” says Espinosa. “We are the ones that make the decisions. We know better. The kids don’t know nothing and they’re getting killed. Come on you guys, have a heart. Have a heart for the children. If not, for your family, because it could happen to anybody. It’s happening more and more and more. We have to put a stop to this.”
Espinosa believes something that could make a major difference in reducing gang violence, especially in low-income neighborhoods, is more affordable options for after-school athletics.
The 2020 North County Gang Commission Annual Report also singled out the city of Vista, for an increase in not only gang shootings, but for a "problem" with ghost guns among "young gang-affiliated youth."