'Ghost guns' investigation: Law enforcement officials call on Congress to act

Law enforcement officials tell Eyewitness News they have been asking lawmakers to pass regulations for unserialized firearms, also known as "ghost guns," for years.

A ghost gun pistol was used by the Saugus High School shooter last November, and a ghost gun assault rifle was used by the suspect to kill California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Moye Jr. last summer.

"Federal law says you can manufacture your own firearm as long as you don't intend to sell it or transfer it to someone else," said Carlos A. Canino, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Los Angeles Field Division. "You can make one. You can make a million and one!"

And Canino says home-made firearms can easily be made from a gun kit. Gun kits are available to purchase online, and many are already 80 percent assembled when they are shipped out, with the remaining pieces needed to complete the firearm assembly in the same box. There's no background check needed to purchase gun kit, because technically you're only buying pieces of metal. Once the buyer drills a few holes in the frame, and puts the remaining pieces together, that is when it becomes a firearm.

"Someone with rudimentary or basic skills can mass produce untraceable firearms in the comfort of their own home," said Canino.

California law dictates that someone must apply for a serial number when building a firearm in our state, but it's a requirement that law enforcement believes many ignore. That's why California Assemblyman Mike Gipson, who represents Carson, Watts, Wilmington and Torrance, helped pass AB-879 last year to create regulations for gun kits. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed that legislation.

"It requires one, that you must have a state background check to possess or purchase a lower receiver or an unfinished frame." said Gipson. "It also creates a data base that we didn't have before on who is actually making these guns to who is possessing a lower receiver or unfinished frame."

MORE: Law enforcement seeing unserialized firearms on daily basis in SoCal
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Local law enforcement and federal authorities tell Eyewitness News that they are now coming across firearms without serial numbers, also known as "ghost guns," every day on the streets of Southern California.

A buyer will also have to pick up the gun kit from a licensed California vendor, but this new state law doesn't go into effect until 2024. We asked Gipson: Why wait four years?

"The Department of Justice needs time to implement the policy, and they need software and machinery in order to create a data base to track when these purchases are taking place," he said.

He also admitted that this new California law will not stop anyone from driving to Arizona or Nevada to purchase a gun kit. That's why he wants Congress to take action. We reached out to all 27 members of Congress and the U.S. Senate representing the ABC7 viewing area to get their views on "ghost gun" regulations. Only 12 responded to our request, including Rep. Judy Chu from California's 27th District who said in a statement, "Ghost Guns and 3D printed guns are designed to undermine our laws so that people deemed too dangerous to have a gun can simply build one at home. It doesn't matter if that person is a terrorist or a domestic abuser. These kinds of loopholes are precisely why we need stronger restrictions on access to guns, not looser ones."

Chu and several others are now co-sponsoring the "Ghost Guns Are Guns Act," introduced last year in the House. It would change the definition of a firearm to include any combination of parts designed to readily assemble a firearm. California Rep. Jimmy Gomez from the 34th district and Norma Torres from the 35th District also support the legislation.

"It is not a second amendment issue. It is already the law that if you own a weapon, a gun, you have to register it," said Torres. "So, if you're buying pieces of it, it's common sense that once you put it together, you register it, or that those pieces come with some type of registry."

"Anything that can be assembled into a gun should be treated as a gun, especially the components or something that can turn into a lethal weapon," added Gomez. "Ghost gun legislation is critical."

But most Democratic members of the House admit, even if they pass ghost gun regulations in their chamber, it would be an uphill battle to get the legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate.

"We passed a bipartisan background check bill early this last year in the House, and it is not going anywhere in the Senate," said Rep. Nanette Barragan from California's 44th District. "This bill just adds ghost guns to those universal background checks. There is no reason Senator McConnell can't put the background check bill that currently passed, to a vote in the Senate."

ABC7 also reached out several times to both the National Rifle Association and the California Rifle and Pistol Association, and got no response from both on the issue.

The ATF tells us that it's now meeting with top local law enforcement brass to try and tackle ghost guns, because investigators feel this is just the beginning when it comes to manufacturing ghost gun technology.

"Ten years from now, the 3D printers are going to be so good that somebody will be able to make a high-capacity, quality firearm in their garage," said Canino.
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