First prosecution of San Diego's "ghost gun" ban shows how worthless the law really is

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San Diego, California is one of several cities in the state that have banned the possession of “ghost guns” in recent months. Anyone caught with an unserialized firearm in the city is now subject to criminal charges, but the first case to actually get to the sentencing phase is a perfect demonstration of just how useless the new ordinance really is.

The ordinance, authored by San Diego Councilmember Marni von Wilpert (a name that sounds like it would also be good for a Disney villain), in essence mirrors existing California law, which already prohibits the possession of an unserialized firearm. The San Diego ordinance specifically creates a misdemeanor offense to possess or sell any firearm that does not have a serial number on it, which is supposed to make criminals think twice about carrying a home-built gun around. As of March of this year, the law wasn’t having any impact on violent crime, with homicides up 80% compared to the same time period in 2021 and 77 unserialized firearms seized by police. There were also 295 serialized firearms seized by police, which is another sign that going after “ghost guns” isn’t going to stop the individuals committing the shootings in the city.

But none of that matters to the virtue-signaling politicians in San Diego, including von Wilpert, who are instead now eagerly singing the praises of the “ghost gun” ordinance now that someone’s been sentenced for violating the law.

“The city’s novel ghost gun ordinance is an effective tool for removing untraceable firearms from the hands of criminals,” City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said. “We thank Councilmember Marni von Wilpert for bringing forward this ordinance, which keeps San Diego at the forefront of our nation’s battle against gun violence.”

… “It’s clear from this conviction that San Diego’s landmark ghost gun law is starting to work to stop the proliferation of dangerous, untraceable firearms in our community,” said von Wilpert.

Is it though? I realize I haven’t actually said what the sentence the defendant received here, so let’s delve a little deeper into the events that led to 23-year old Rene Orozco having the dubious distinction of being the subject of a press release by the city attorney.

Orozco’s arrest apparently didn’t make the news at the time, but according to the Elliott’s account he was arrested after fleeing from police and leading them on a car chase through San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood, allegedly tossing the unserialized gun as he then continued to try to elude officers on foot.

Would Orozco would have avoided arrest and prosecution if the gun he’d been caught with had a serial number? Of course not. So what exactly is the point of a misdemeanor charge for possessing a “ghost gun” when he could already be charged with illegal possession of a weapon for simply having a gun in the first place. Then there are the charges of eluding police, tampering with evidence, and any number of traffic misdemeanors that were committed during the police pursuit. But the City Attorney needs to show that this new ordinance is working, and so Orozco was charged with having a ghost gun, and now gets to experience firsthand the draconian punishment that will surely cause him to rethink the decisions he made.

He was sentenced last week to 45 days in custody and one year of probation. As a result, his driver’s license will be suspended from six months and he is prohibited from owning firearms for a year.

45 days in custody with good credit time means that Orozco will likely spend about three weeks in the county lockup, which doesn’t sound like much time considering how scary “ghost guns” are supposed to be. And again, he could have gotten that same sentence just by charging him with misdemeanor crimes in California state statute that have nothing to do with unserialized firearms. What’s the point?

San Diego’s “ghost gun” ordinance is pure political theater; designed to have an impact on the electorate, not armed criminals. As long as politicians like von Wilpert can convince constituents that she’s “doing something” to address their fears about violent crime, she doesn’t have to bother coming up with doing something that actually works. And in California, “doing something” means putting another gun control law on the books that at best is worthless, and far too often ends up harming the law-abiding instead of curtailing violent criminals.