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Lawsuit To Crack Down On ‘Ghost Guns’ Prompted By Saugus High Shooting

The parents of the two victims killed in the Saugus High shooting joined the California Attorney General Tuesday to announce a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), in order to crack down on so-called “ghost guns” that skirt laws requiring background checks and age verification.

On Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell and 15-year-old Gracie Muehlberger were shot and killed by another student before his own death in a tragic event that also injured three others.

See Related: Families Of Saugus Shooting Victims Recount Day That Changed Their Lives

The weapon used in the shooting was later revealed to be a .45 caliber “ghost gun,” which was assembled from various parts and had no serial number, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“Ghost guns are untraceable weapons that have been used in mass shootings throughout the country and right here in California — from Santa Monica in 2013, to Tehama County in 2017, and at Saugus High School just last year,” said Attorney General Becerra in a statement Tuesday. “We can’t afford to wait for another tragedy to happen before we take action. It’s time for ATF to prioritize the safety of our communities by calling these products what they are: firearms, and regulating them accordingly.”

Without a  commercial serial number and available for purchase without a background check, “ghost guns” are not currently considered subject to ATF regulation under the Gun Control Act due to the fact that the receiver, which houses all internal components including the barrel and trigger mechanism, are not finished at the time of purchase.

“If you can assemble Ikea furniture, you can definitely build a ghost gun,” said Hannah Shearer, Giffords Law Center Litigation Director. “And you’ll probably be able to do it faster: there are kits and tools that let you assemble a ghost gun in under 15 minutes. Yet for no reason at all, the parts used to build ghost guns aren’t treated as firearms under federal law. “

See Related: Saugus Student Honored For Life-Saving Actions During Saugus High Shooting

“The effects of ATF’s misclassification of ghost guns are real and they are devastating,” Shearer continued. “We demand accountability for the industry actors who are enabling gun violence to line their pockets. And we demand justice for Gracie Anne Muehlberger, Dominic Blackwell, and others tragically killed by ghost guns.”

Becerra disputes this interpretation, noting that the Gun Control Act expressly states that a receiver or frame can be considered a firearm because such pieces are “designed to or may readily be converted” into functional weapons.

“The sale of ghost guns in the United States presents an overwhelming threat to communities and people who may become victims of violence,” the suit reads. “Unregulated, ghost guns can be purchased by people with lengthy criminal records or serious mental illnesses, and other prospective shooters intent on doing harm.”

Bryan Muehlberger, the father of Gracie, had never heard of a “ghost gun” before his daughter’s death at the hands of another student.

“Anyone, and I mean anyone, can buy these totally unregulated kits with just an internet connection and a credit card, and that’s how my daughter’s killer got his murder weapon,” Muehlberger said.

As a test, Muehlberger himself bought a ghost gun using Gracie’s name and his own credit card to order a ghost gun kit. It was delivered without a single hitch, even though the alleged buyer was not only underage, but also deceased.

“It’s that easy for anyone, including children, those with mental illness or past issues with violence, and those that are not legally allowed to own guns, including a dead girl, to circumvent our laws and get a gun,” said Muehlberger.

The suit aims to force the ATF to reclassify these ghost guns as firearms in order to prevent “those who pose the greatest threat of violence” from purchasing guns.

“Victims of crimes committed with ghost guns are often left without answers, and ghost gun trafficking remains undetected,” the suit reads. “Yet, year after year, the number of ghost guns continues to grow.”

The California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Firearms, which conducts enforcement investigations to confiscate firearms from prohibited persons, noted a 512% increase in ghost gun seizures in such investigations in 2019 compared to 2018.

“Currently, there are at least 80 online retailers of ghost guns—68 percent of which entered the ghost gun market after 2014—that sell all of the parts necessary to build a ghost gun,” the suit reads. “That number is likely even larger than reported, because dealers are not required to obtain an ATF license to sell their products.”

Muehlberger and Blackwell are listed as plaintiffs in the suit, along with the State of California and the Giffords Law Center. The ATF is listed as a defendant, along with ATF Deputy Director Regina Lombardo, ATF Chief of Firearms Technology Industry Services Michael Curtis, the United States Department of Justice, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

The full lawsuit can be viewed here.

Ed. Note: Michael Brown and Devon Miller contributed to this article.

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Lawsuit To Crack Down On ‘Ghost Guns’ Prompted By Saugus High Shooting

6 comments

  1. I am pro 2nd amendment and completely support the crackdown of ghost guns. What is scary though is 3d printing capability when the pricepoint gets down to individual users.

  2. Per California law a teenager cannot purchase/own a firearm and ammo. If you are inheriting a firearm you must transfer that firearm into your name . It is also illegal to be in procession of firearms that do not belong to you. In this case the father was a gun owner and passed away. Why hasn’t the ATF looked into the mother of the shooter? Was there a CA compliant gun safe in the home? Did the mother transfer all of her husbands guns into her name? I agree 80% firearms should be illegal but in the case of the shooting at Saugus high there were more contributing factors to how it happened and the “ghost gun “is only a small portion .The fact of the matter is this child had access to firearms and ammo which is illegal. Lock your guns and ammo away from children and anyone who isn’t the registered owner. Its for your safety and its the law. People scream for more gun laws but we are not even enforcing the ones we have.

    • Concerned mom and responsible gun owner

      Thank you Trevor!! We have strict gun laws in CA. I’d say the most strict in USA. We have to acknowledge the irresponsible person(s) who are responsible for the minor. Has that discussion been tackled? Why are there not charges brought on to the parent for the reckless & irresponsible gun ownership that is clearly an issue.

  3. Be a parent. You need to keep track of YOUR kids at all times.

  4. While your desire to prevent crimes is noble, this particular facet of crime is more difficult to parse than the article or news likes to mention. The crux of the issue is, at which point in the manufacturing process does a brick of metal become a firearm?

    In many places, the law treats anything that cannot fire a projectile as a paperweight for obvious reasons.

    Some lawmakers have chosen the arbitrary number of 80% completion to mean that a piece of metal (ghost gun) is now a firearm. Some societies have decided the opposite, if it looks like you may make a firearm out of it, even plastic guns or metal bricks are a felony to own or ship.

    As you can see, there are more rights here than the government can reliably be trusted with, or every blacksmith, CNC shop, machining company, toymaker or person with metal supplies will be a felon without intent to harm.

    It was against the law for this young man to own this firearm. It is against the law to carry a firearm in public in LA County, either open or concealed for 99.999% of the population here. It is against the law to transport a loaded weapon in a backpack, to drive in a car with an unsecured weapon, to enter a school with a firearm, and to murder people with a firearm.

    I applaud and support the efforts of those who wish to reduce violence in our society. The journey to that goal must be cognizant of the rights we should be able to enjoy as law abiding citizens, and keep in mind that such legislation must be narrowly crafted so as to protect the rights of the masses who commit no crime.

  5. We need more School resource officers! CA has the strictest laws out of all of the states. I do not accept using our children and this incident to push an agenda. Defend and bring on more armed deputies to our campuses.

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About Jade Aubuchon

A Santa Clarita native, Jade has spent her whole life involved in community outreach. After graduating from Learning Post High in 2015, she went on to College of the Canyons to pursue a double major in English and Marketing. Jade spent several years as a ballroom dance performer for a local studio and has performed at public and private events throughout Santa Clarita.