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San Francisco DA sues ghost gun manufacturers

The number of untraceable ghost guns seized by San Francisco police increased by more than 2,000% from 2016 to 2020.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — San Francisco’s top prosecutor on Wednesday sued three makers and sellers of “ghost guns,” claiming their businesses are flooding California streets with untraceable weapons and violating multiple state and federal laws.

“Today we directly take on those who are responsible for bringing these dangerous and unregulated weapons into the streets of San Francisco and throughout the state of California,” San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in announcing the lawsuit Wednesday.

Teaming up with the law firm Keker, Van Nest & Peters and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Boudin’s office filed a civil complaint in state court against three companies: Blackhawk Manufacturing Group Inc., GS Performance LLC and MDX Corporation.

According to the lawsuit, the companies sell assembly kits for unregistered firearms that can be pieced together in 30 minutes or less. Colloquially referred to as “ghost guns,” the untraceable weapons have been showing up more frequently in crimes committed on San Francisco’s streets over the last five years, according to the San Francisco Police Department.

The city’s police chief, William “Bill” Scott, told police commissioners in April that the department seized 167 ghost guns in 2020, a more than 2,600% increase over the six confiscated in 2016. San Francisco police have confiscated more than 150 untraceable firearms so far this year, according to the lawsuit filed against gun assembly kit sellers.

The complaint details how people not allowed to possess firearms have used the unregistered weapons to kill multiple people in California over the last decade, including a man who failed a background check before assembling an untraceable AR-15 that he used to kill five people in Santa Monica in 2013. In 2017, a man barred from legally owning firearms bought an AR-15 ghost gun, which he used to “engage in a 25-minute-long shooting spree across Tehama County” that killed five people and injured 18. In 2019, a 16-year-old Santa Clarita student too young to legally possess firearms managed to obtain a ghost gun that he used in a school shooting that killed two students before killing himself.

"Ghost guns pose a grave threat to public safety; these untraceable firearms are readily available to children and prohibited persons,” Boudin said Wednesday. “We will hold the companies responsible for their manufacture and distribution accountable.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has seized more ghost guns in California than in any other state. In 2020, California accounted for 65% of the untraceable weapons seized, eclipsing the next highest state of Maryland, which accounted for 7%, according to ATF statistics cited in the complaint.

The lawsuit claims the gun kit manufacturers are violating California’s Unfair Competition Law by not complying with firearms regulations and gaining an unfair advantage over competitors that follow the law. It also accuses them of false advertising for allegedly deceiving consumers into believing ghost guns are legal to purchase and possess.

The complaint further accuses the gun kit sellers of violating the federal Gun Control Act, which requires that all firearms contain serial numbers and be sold by a federally licensed seller that runs background checks. The lawsuit additionally claims violations of the California Assembly of Firearms Law, which requires private manufacturers of firearms apply to the California Department of Justice for a serial number and undergo background checks. On top of that, the gun makers are accused of selling weapons that do not meet safety standards or undergo tests to ensure they will not go off when dropped on the ground in violation of the California Unsafe Handguns Act.

The defendants — Blackhawk Manufacturing Group Inc., GS Performance LLC and MDX Corporation — did not respond to emails requesting comment Wednesday.

Boudin’s partners at Keker Van Nest and the Giffords Law Center said they were honored to team up with the district attorney’s office to take on distributors of untraceable firearm assembly kits.

“Keker, Van Nest & Peters is proud to be partnering with District Attorney Boudin’s office on this groundbreaking litigation to hold ghost gun manufacturers and retailers accountable,” John Keker said in a statement.  “The defendants manufacture and sell dangerous weapons without verifying consumers’ ages or eligibility to buy guns."

Hannah Shearer, litigation director for the Giffords Law Center, said the untraceable weapons flooding into California communities have cost many people their lives.

“It is time to hold these reckless companies accountable for the deaths, violence, and criminal prosecutions caused by their disregard of federal and state firearm regulations and consumer protection laws,” Shearer said.

In May, the Justice Department proposed a new rule to broaden the definition of firearm and require some gun-making kits include serial numbers. That followed an executive order by President Joe Biden in April calling for new restrictions on untraceable ghost guns. Biden has also nominated David Chipman, a top policy adviser for the Giffords Law Center and gun control advocate, to lead the ATF.

Follow Nicholas Iovino on Twitter.

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