San Francisco would be the first city in California to completely ban the possession and sale of untraceable firearms, known as “ghost guns,” under new legislation that seeks to combat the surge in shootings across The City.
The new legislation, from Supervisor Catherine Stefani, would make it a misdemeanor for anyone in San Francisco to possess, buy or sell the unserialized parts used to make ghost guns, with few exceptions. The legislation specifically bans unfinished frames or receivers that are used to build ghost guns and are not imprinted with a serial number.
“Every community needs a ghost gun ban because every community is threatened by ghost guns,” Stefani said at a press conference Tuesday, announcing the legislation. Stefani called the prevalence of ghost guns an “absolute crisis” and urged other cities to follow suit.
Ghost guns are unserialized firearms that anyone can readily purchase in parts online and assemble at home without having to pass a background check. The weapons are a problem for law enforcement agencies across the nation because police cannot trace them back to a buyer or seller when a ghost gun turns up at a crime scene.
As the San Francisco Examiner first reported last month, police are increasingly coming across the untracable weapons while investigating shootings, robberies and homicides in San Francisco. Police data shows the cops seized 164 ghost guns in 2020 compared to just 6 in 2016. And police say those numbers are only the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of how many untraceable guns are out there at a time when shootings are up in The City.
Police Chief Bill Scott, who supports the legislation, said the proposed ban would help “control” the rise in shootings. Police data shows 77 people have been shot so far in 2021 as of last week compared to just 30 during the same time period last year. And Scott said 44 percent of the firearms his officers recovered in connection with homicides were ghost guns last year compared to only 6 percent of guns in 2019.
Scott said being able to buy and sell ghost guns online without background checks has made regulations that prohibit certain individuals, like those who commit felonies or domestic violence, from owning firearms “mean nothing.”
“In my opinion, this is causing part of what we are seeing on our streets play out,” Scott said at the press conference.
Stefani’s legislation comes at a time when bigger changes are afoot at the state and federal levels.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a proposal would make the sale of build-at-home firearms kits subject to background checks and require that frames and receivers in those kits be imprinted with serial numbers.
California has also passed a new state law that will require retailers to pass background checks and have a license, but the legislation does not go into effect until July 2022.
Allison Anderman, a senior attorney with the Giffords Law Center, said both of the upcoming legislative changes will address the situation, but not quickly enough.
“There is a substantial period of time during which ghost guns will be allowed to proliferate in San Francisco,” Anderman said at the press conference.
California does already require people building firearms at home to apply for a serial number with the California Department of Justice and receive a background check. But Anderman said “too few people” are actually applying for the serial numbers.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on Stefani’s legislation at a later date.