On Wednesday, San Diego's chief of police announced the formation of a new team within the department that has been assigned the explicit goal of cracking down on ghost guns.
A ghost gun is essentially a "do it yourself" firearm that can be built at home, using untraceable parts anyone can buy online without passing a background check.
SDPD's move came just hours after a city council committee threw its support behind the creation of an ordinance to close loopholes.
Right now, California residents are required to registered finished firearms built with unserialized parts, but it’s essentially an honor system – one police say criminals aren’t following. The state legislature recently passed a law requiring that all parts have traceable serial numbers and that those parts only be sold by licensed gun dealers – but that state law doesn’t go into effect until July 2022.
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So in the meantime, SDPD Chief David Nisleit said to expect to see more officers working the streets, especially in neighborhoods where ghost gun seizures are on the rise.
"The gun violence in this city is of grave concern to us,” said Nisleit in a news conference at police headquarters. “That's why you're seeing this gun-violence-reduction plan. that's why you're also seeing the implementation of this new ghost gun team to really try to drive down our ghost gun violence."
Nisleit said that, moving ahead, when officers find a ghost gun on a suspect or at a scene, they'll call in the new team, which will attempt to trace where the weapons came from.
"If we happen to catch the person that is manufacturing or selling these ghost guns,” said Capt. Matt Novak, “then we know they were in possession of it.”
The trick though, is keeping the guns from winding up in the wrong hands when so much of how they got there is still perfectly legal.
Buying unfinished parts that have no serial numbers is legal, but police said bad actors are assembling those parts and then reselling unregistered finished firearms. Those are the people police want in handcuffs.
Just days after a San Diego man gunned down five people, one fatally, in the Gaslamp using a homemade gun, the city council asked police to study how pervasive ghost guns are. Wednesday morning, police presented their findings to the public safety committee.
In 2018, San Diego police seized 53 ghost guns. So far this year, officers have already confiscated 233 -- more than all of last year, and the year is only half over. San Diego police officers are on track to seize nearly 500 ghost guns.
"Right now, I want city our council to act,” said Councilmember Marni von Wilpert following the police presentation. “Especially because the California legislation won’t be in place for another year, not until July 2022. And I don't want us to wait a year to act locally here, especially since we've seen the rise in violence and gun violence."
Von Wilpert's plea received unanimous support. The committee backed her proposal to ask the city attorney's office for help drafting a new city law. That law will aim to regulate the sale and transfer of gun parts in San Diego.