One Arrest Shows Why A "Ghost Gun" Ban Won't Work

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There’s a bit of an arms race going on amongst California cities at the moment, or rather a “disarm race,” as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and other coastal enclaves compete with each other to impose bans on home-built firearms even though California law already requires all DIY guns to be registered with the state. In San Diego, gun owners are suing to block the implementation of a new local ordinance banning the possession and transportation of unserialized gun parts as well as unserialized firearms, while a similar ordinance was approved earlier this month in San Francisco.  District Attorney Chese Boudin has also sued several online retailers for selling unfinished and unserialized gun parts.

Clearly the state’s anti-gun politicians believe that if they can ban so-called ghost guns, criminals won’t be able to get their hands on one. A case from Santa Rosa, California, however, is a perfect illustration of the fact that banning something and getting rid of it are two very different things.

A 19-year-old Santa Rosa man on probation faces multiple charges after allegedly possessing a so-called “ghost gun” along with cocaine, police said.

According to Santa Rosa Police, officers said they found a suspicious person on the 800 block of West College Avenue around 1:20 p.m. Sunday. Officers learned he was on active felony probation and subject to a warrantless search.

Police said during the search, they found a loaded 9mm handgun in the suspect’s waistband that did not have a serial number, commonly known as a ghost gun. A small amount of suspected cocaine was also found.

Young Ricardo Reynoso-Hernandez is now facing a long list of charges, including being a felon in possession of a firearm, carrying a concealed firearm, carrying a loaded firearm not registered to him, felon in possession of ammunition, possession of a controlled substance, and a probation violation.

Now, if banning things got rid of them, it’s doubtful that Reynoso-Hernandez would be behind bars at all. After all, he wouldn’t have been in possession of cocaine, which is banned under both federal and state law. And he certainly wouldn’t have been in possession of an unserialized firearm, because those are already banned under California law as well.

But bans don’t make those forbidden objects disappear, clearly. They merely make it a criminal offense to possess those items. But here’s the thing: Reynoso-Hernandez is already prohibited by law from possessing any firearm, serialized or not. Even if California didn’t ban the possession of an unserialized firearm, he’d be facing felon-in-possession charges.

Now, supporters of these kinds of gun bans will claim that they make it much harder for guys like Ricardo Reynoso-Hernandez to get ahold of a gun, though they don’t have any evidence to back up their argument. Whether through theft, the black market, straw purchases, or building their own, criminals who want to get a gun can do so almost as easily as they can get their hands on some cocaine, meth, heroin, or fentanyl.

These types of bans aren’t that great at preventing certain behavior. Their primary utility is in punishing behavior after the fact, but California already has so many gun control laws on the books that a ban on unserialized firearms is redundant for most people charged with possessing one. In Reynoso-Hernandez’s case, the felon-in-possession charge is the most serious one he faces, and for sentencing purposes it’s really the only one he’ll care about. The only way the “ghost gun” charge will come into play is if he’s offered a chance to plead guilty to lesser charges like that in exchange for having the most serious charges dropped.

Technological advances have definitely made it easier for people to build their own firearms, and I’m sure that some criminals are taking advantage, but that doesn’t mean that banning home-built guns will do anything to prevent violent crime. And it would be one thing if it merely imposed another level of criminality on those who are already breaking the law by possessing a gun, but these bans also impose a burden on the rights of law-abiding and responsible gun owners. They’re literally promising security at the expense of individual freedom, but as the arrest of Ricardo Reynoso-Hernadez shows us, that promise has already been broken.