Will A Federal Judge Block San Diego's New "Ghost Gun" Ban?

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Second Amendment groups have made the ask, and now we’re waiting to see what U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant will decide. Attorneys for the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC and the Firearms Policy Coalition argued on Tuesday that the city of San Diego’s new ban on homemade firearms violates California state law and imposes an impermissible burden on the rights of law-abiding citizens.

“Although the city may have good intentions in what it’s trying to prevent, it actually prevents lawful conduct with the state regulatory scheme,” attorney John Dillon, representing individual gun owners along with the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC and Firearms Policy Coalition, told the Barack Obama appointee.

When he signed the Eliminate Non-serialized Untraceable Firearms (ENUF) ordinance Sept. 23, [Mayor Todd] Gloria, a Democrat, noted the “dramatic increase in gun violence across our city using ghost guns.”

According to the mayor’s office, San Diego saw a 169% increase in the number of ghost guns retrieved and impounded compared to the previous year.

This year, San Diego has already surpassed the number of ghost guns seized in all of 2019 and 2020, and the number seized by the San Diego Police Department is expected to double by the end of the year.

That may be the case, but local law enforcement are still seizing far more serialized firearms that have been stolen or acquired through straw purchases than “ghost guns.” And as one of the attorneys representing San Diego unintentionally acknowledged, criminals are, by their very nature, going to ignore the city’s new ban just as they’re disregarding existing state law.

“The reality is it attacks a host of constitutionally recognized conduct the state recognizes,” attorney Raymond DiGuiseppe, also representing the gun owners, told Bashant.

He added: “People can still do that everywhere except the city of San Diego. They can manufacture guns with un-serialized parts and apply for a serial number with the state. Nobody is asking to have ghost guns — people are asking for serialized numbers, and they will be traceable.”

Deputy City Attorney Matthew Zollman said the state’s process for obtaining serial numbers and undergoing a background check for self-assembled firearms is “an honor system.”

“The problem with that is pretty self-apparent: Criminals will skip the last step,” Zollman said.

And they’ll be breaking an existing state law by doing so. What good does it do to put a local ordinance on the books when any criminal caught carrying a gun (unserialized or not) is already eligible for prosecution under state statutes? Or, to put it another way, why do San Diego politicians believe that a new misdemeanor offense is going to be more successful at preventing illegal gun possession than the current statewide prohibition on possessing unserialized firearms?

I doubt they do, to be honest. I think the City Council’s ban on “ghost guns” is more about doing something than doing something that works. As long as the public is convinced they’re taking steps to make San Diego safer, it really doesn’t matter to the politicians if the folks who are impacted the most are the law-abiding citizens.

The new ordinance is slated to go into effect on October 23rd, so Bashant doesn’t have much time to decide whether or not to grant the injunction requested by gun owners. Given the judge’s political leanings (she was appointed to the bench by Barack Obama back in 2014, to the delight of anti-gun Sen. Dianne Feinstein), I’m not overly optimistic that she’s going to side with the plaintiffs here, but stranger things have happened. And regardless of what the judge decides, we know the fight over unserialized firearms is going to continue in California courtrooms and the state capitol in the months ahead.

Nov 29, 2021 4:30 PM ET