San Diego City Councilmember Marni Von Wilpert sent a letter to San Diego’s police chief Friday calling on him to produce a sweeping report looking into unserialized, homemade "ghost guns" and their connection to crimes.
She said the council will use the information to come up with ways to protect communities from the surge of gun violence. The request comes as state lawmakers work to fix an apparent oversight in a law used to remove guns from the people considered most dangerous.
The person who uncovered the loophole, Marcus Friedman, a spring 2021 law school graduate at the University of San Diego, knows the bloodshed of gun violence all too well.
“It’s panic,” Friedman said, recalling that horrific night in October of 2017 when a man on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas opened fire on an outdoor concert. “It’s a huge toll in the moment. You have that fight or flight. You have that realization that you don’t know what’s going to happen to you in that moment. And it was terrifying.”
Friedman said at first, he thought the gunshots were a broken speaker. But it wasn’t long before screams, and people running from the stage made it clear the sound was far more sinister.
“It was chaotic,” Friedman said. “We made our way out of the tent, and once I made my way out of the tent, I turned around and my friends weren’t there.”
Fortunately, Friedman and his friends all made it out alive, but the wounds you can’t see have been harder to heal.
“As you can imagine,” Friedman said. “It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. recent history, with 60 dead, and hundreds injured, you don’t go out of there without taking some memories with you.”
Friedman grew up in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in 2018. Friedman wasn’t at that shooting, but his hometown neighbors and friends felt the shockwaves of that mass shooting.
His connection to gun violence fueled his interest in gun law research. It was during the course of that research that Friedman stumbled upon an apparent oversight in an increasingly popular legal tool used to keep guns out of dangerous hands.
“I noticed that precursor parts weren’t mentioned under the definition of firearms for gun violence restraining orders,” Friedman explained.
Gun Violence Restraining Orders, or GVROs, allow police to remove firearms from people deemed by a judge to pose a danger to themselves, their family or the community.
Earlier this month, Chula Vista police say they used a GVRO to confiscate a cache of weapons from the husband of missing Chula Vista mother Maya Millete. The order was requested after police say they found a photo with one of the couple’s young children surrounded by firearms.
According to the GVRO, most of the 14 firearms CVPD seized were unserialized, also known as ghost guns. Millete’s husband has denied any involvement in her disappearance.
Because those homemade guns were finished and functional, police could and did seize them. But had police found unassembled gun parts like these, officers wouldn't have been able to take them because the parts aren’t considered guns under the law.
“When I found out these ghost guns are not subject to California’s gun violence restraining orders,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (74th District - Orange County). “I was shocked, and I knew something had to be done to close this dangerous loophole”
Petrie-Norris worked with Friedman to author State Bill 1057, which classifies ghost gun parts as weapons that could be seized through a GVRO.
The bill has the support of the San Diego City Attorney’s office, which told NBC 7 Investigates that from 2018 to 2020, GVROs were served in roughly 550 cases.
While we don’t know how many of those cases included ghost guns; 36% of them were linked to family violence; one-third were linked to suicide or self-harm; 16% involved threats to strangers; 11% were threats to acquaintances or neighbors, and 8% were threats to schools or workplaces.
The City Attorney also said they saw a spike in suicide threats during 2020, and recently hit a milestone of confiscating more than 1,000 guns through GVROs, including 48 assault weapons.
“This is a huge problem,” said Petrie-Norris. “Because we have gun violence restraining orders in place to protect our community from people who we know are dangerous. Right now, these people are not allowed to have traditional guns, but they’re allowed to have and to build ghost guns, that is a huge danger to the community, so we’ve got to close that loophole to keep all of us safe.”
Bill 1057 passed through the Assembly unanimously, and just this week it was assigned to a committee in the state Senate, which it must also clear before it can get to the governor’s desk.
Petrie-Norris is confident the bill will become law, but said ultimately California can only do so much.
She said people will just drive across state lines to circumvent the law until there is real gun reform at the federal level.