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Gun owners, violence victims clash at California gun control hearings

In the wake of a mass shooting blocks from the California Capitol and an alarming spike in gun violence across the state, lawmakers are debating a ban on ghost guns.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A range of firearm bills hit the California Assembly and Senate on Tuesday, just over two weeks after a mass shooting blocks from the state Capitol left six dead and another 12 injured. The tense conversations before lawmakers involved a spectrum of first-hand accounts of gun violence, calls for accountability in the firearm industry, and gun owners calling the bills an attempt to keep the public from purchasing firearms. 

Assemblymember Mike Gipson, D-Gardena, introduced Assembly Bill 1621, which would prohibit and regulate "ghost guns" and related untraceable gun parts. Ghost guns are firearms with no serial number, either because it's been filed off or has been built as an untraceable gun — often from kits sold on the internet or made on a 3D printer. 

The call for ghost gun regulations has become urgent in the last two years amid mass shootings and the proliferation of such guns. In 2021, Los Angeles police seized over 1,780 ghost guns, more than double the number recovered in 2020. In addition, unregistered and illegally modified guns have been used in several California killings this year.

One of the firearms recovered in the downtown Sacramento mass shooting was a handgun illegally modified to function as an automatic weapon. Also this year, David Mora, 39, used a homemade semiautomatic rifle to murder his three daughters and the social worker supervising his parental visitation at a Sacramento-area church before killing himself. 

These homemade guns are shockingly easy to get. The first hit on Google for "ghost guns" is an online store specifically for ghost guns and unregulated firearm parts. The company prides itself on offering "private weapon builds you can do yourself," selling kits for rifles, pistols and countless features and accessories. These DIY guns are not considered firearms under federal law and require no background checks before or after purchase.

Before the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, Gipson tried to get a head start on debunking claims later heard from Gun Owners of California's executive director, Sam Paredes. 

"Let me be clear. This bill is not about taking away the right of legal gun owners. It's not about that," Gipson said.

Gipson explained his investigation into how easily a teenager could get a ghost gun. A 17-year-old boy bought a gun kit for $149.99 and had it shipped to his home within just a few days. He then went on YouTube and viewed a complete tutorial for assembling the kit. 

"This lack of regulation should alarm everyone in this room and everyone watching at home," Gipson told lawmakers.

The 2019 Saugus High School shooting carried out by 16-year-old Nathaniel Berhow left two fellow students dead and three others injured involved a ghost gun. Berhow's father could not own guns due to mental health issues, yet he still acquired a pistol with interchangeable parts and no serial number — one of 42 illegally owned guns found in the Berhow home. 

Mia Tretta, 16, a student at Saugus High when the shooting occurred, told lawmakers how she saw her best friend dying and then getting airlifted from her school for emergency surgery after being shot in the stomach. 

"Anyone with a credit card, the skills to build IKEA furniture, and some spare time can make the same gun that took the lives of two of my classmates and changed mine forever," Tretta said. "Let us be kids and let us be safe," Tretta said. 

Paredes told lawmakers he shared concerns about "the recent escalation in crime throughout the nation" but said banning ghost guns isn't the answer. "Privately made firearms have become an unfortunate scapegoat," Paredes said.

If passed, AB 1621 would give unregistered firearm owners six months to register their guns. The bill would ban certain modifying gun parts until they are federally regulated, and computer numerical control (CNC) milling machines with the primary purpose of gun manufacturing would be outlawed. Gun enthusiasts would still be able to build guns at home for personal use with frames and receivers subject to federal gun safety laws. 

Other legislation discussed Tuesday included AB 1594, AB 2551, and Senate Bill 1384. The bills involve firearm advertising to minors, having the Department of Justice notify local authorities if a prohibited person attempts to purchase a firearm or ammunition, gun vendor certification training, and firearm industry regulations that allow the public to file civil suits against gun manufacturers. 

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