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.
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. “
“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.Do you have a news tip? Call us at (661) 298-1220, or send an email to email@example.com. Don’t miss a thing. Get breaking KHTS Santa Clarita News Alerts delivered right to your inbox. Report a typo or error, email Corrections@hometownstation.com
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