San Diego's Unserious Ban On Unserialized Gun Parts

AP Photo/Eric Gay, File

City council members in San Diego have voted 8-1 to make it illegal to purchase, possess, or sell unserialized frames and receivers in an attempt to crack down on “ghost guns”, though the new ordinance isn’t likely to stop violent criminals. The misdemeanor offense is also going to be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce proactively, but that’s not stopping local politicians from patting themselves on the back.

After the vote, Mayor Todd Gloria tweeted “kudos” to von Wilpert and indicated he would sign the ordinance, which would go into effect 30 days after he signs it.

“Gun violence, and specifically the proliferation of ghost guns, is a huge concern for our city,” Gloria tweeted.

Last year, officers impounded 211 ghost guns. San Diego police project the number will double this year. The department has seized 328 ghost guns so far this year.

San Diego police Chief David Nisleit has been sounding alarms for months about the increasing prevalence of ghost guns in the city, and in July announced that the department had created a team focused on investigating and stopping illegal sales of the weapons.

As I discussed on Tuesday, the gun control movement really doesn’t have an answer for the explosive growth in DIY gunmaking technology, including 3D-printed firearms. The can make homebuilt guns illegal, but that doesn’t mean that a ban will or can stop their proliferation. Instead of targeting criminals, critics of San Diego’s new ordinance say it will be responsible gun owners who’ll feel the biggest impact.

Councilmember Chris Cate was the sole dissenting vote. He did not make a statement before casting his ‘no’ vote Tuesday. However, when voting “no” last month, he said the ban’s potential impact on law-abiding gun owners was somewhat unclear, and he also cast doubt on its effectiveness at keeping criminals from getting their hands on guns.

California requires completed firearms to have a serial number. Under current state law, once a person builds a gun, they must apply to the state Department of Justice for a serial number for the firearm.

Michael Schwartz, executive director of the San Diego County Gun Owners Association, called the ordinance vague and “ridiculously ineffective.”

Schwartz said the ordinance effectively bans anyone in San Diego — even law-abiding gun owners — from getting the gun parts. That, he said, is because there is no process in place to put a serial number on the gun frame in the kit before it is assembled.

“It’s like saying you can buy any car you want as long as it flies,” he said.

According to the San Diego police, home-built guns account for about 20% of all firearms seized in the city this year; a number that’s growing, to be sure, but still evidence that criminals are getting their hands on guns through a variety of means, despite the state’s draconian gun control laws. And of course if gun control was really effective at preventing violent crime, it wouldn’t really matter if criminals were illegally arming themselves because California’s law requiring background checks on all ammunition sales should stop them from buying bullets, right?

Yeah, apparently that’s not working out so well either.

San Diego’s not the only California city cracking down on home-built guns, and the state is set to implement new restrictions next July as well. At the federal level, the ATF is still pursuing a rule that would ban unserialized frames and receivers, so we’re going to see a lot of litigation over these new laws in the months ahead. And because these laws can’t actually prevent anyone from making their own gun, we’ll probably be seeing a lot more home-built firearms even after the ban takes effect.