CONTACT: Rachel Marshall / (415) 416-4468 / Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org
Director of Communications / Policy Advisor / Assistant District Attorney
SAN FRANCISCO – Today, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced that on Friday, the District Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and the law firm Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP, filed a motion on behalf of the People of California to immediately stop the sale of ghost gun kits in California by three defendant manufacturer and retailers.
“In the wake of several mass shootings across the country, it has never been more urgent to stop the flow of guns into our communities. Ghost guns pose a grave and urgent threat to public safety; the companies we are prosecuting make untraceable firearms readily available to children and people prohibited from owning weapons,” said District Attorney Boudin. “I promised last week to take aggressive action to advance this case, and on Friday we made good on that promise by filing this motion for a preliminary injunction. As our partners in law enforcement have attested, these dangerous weapons have flooded our communities, and they must be stopped immediately.”
“When firearms that do not meet California safety standards are built at home by individuals who have not passed a background check and have not had their guns properly serialized, it leaves law enforcement in the dark and hurts public safety,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Companies who flout the law and endanger the public by putting untraceable weapons into dangerous hands must be held accountable. There have been more mass shootings in our nation than days in the year in 2022. My office will continue to use every legal tool available to end this gun violence epidemic and to keep Californians safe.”
“We’re asking the court to enjoin the defendants from contributing to a wave of unserialized, untraceable and unsafe firearms sweeping across the state,” said Travis Silva, a partner with Keker, Van Nest & Peters. “Through the sale of kits that can be assembled in 30 minutes to create a fully functioning firearm, the defendants violate federal and state laws to usurp background check, gun registration, and gun safety regulations. Ghost guns are the fastest-growing gun safety problem in our country, and in a nation plagued by gun violence we cannot let these companies continue to evade the law.”
“Ghost guns pose an existential threat to all the gun safety laws that help to keep us safe. Defendants’ ghost gun kits are dangerous, and Defendants are selling them without background checks, to Californians who mistakenly believe—thanks to Defendants’ own statements—that they are legal when they are not. Defendants are profiting off the proliferation of illegal firearms in California, including from their own irresponsible lies,” said Esther Giffords, a Senior Litigation Attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The People’s motion for a preliminary injunction is supported by broad coalition of law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area. San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott submitted a declaration in support of the motion, wherein he writes that privately manufactured firearms (PMFs) and illegally possessed firearms pose an increasing public safety risk in the City and County of San Francisco. “PMFs complicate the work of the San Francisco Police Department by increasing criminal access to firearms, by reducing the ability to track or trace firearms either individually or as a class, and by creating potentially inherently danger firearms due to inconsistent, variable, or lacking quality control.”
“Ghost guns pose a grave public safety problem in San Mateo County,” writes San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe in a declaration submitted in support of the motion. Although he says that the “ghost gun crisis is relatively new,” District Attorney Wagstaffe estimates that “about one-third of all firearms-related crimes that the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office charged in 2021 involved ghost guns, with this proportion increasing each of the past two years.”
BART Chief of Police Edgardo Alvarez also submitted a declaration in support the motion.
Understanding the Recent Proliferation of Ghost Guns
Ghost guns are privately manufactured firearms that lack a serial number and are sold without background checks and other legal safeguards. The parts to assemble ghost guns are sold online in kits, and consumers finalize the gun assembly at home. Assembling a fully functional firearm requires minimal tools and can be completed in less than 30 minutes, often assisted by online tutorials that are readily available on YouTube.
Ghost guns impede investigations of firearm crimes and fuel cycles of gun violence. Ghost guns do not have serial numbers or other methods of tracing the guns or their owners. As a result, law enforcement is unable to track them or to regulate who has access to these weapons. “The lack of tracing information also makes it difficult for law enforcement analysis to identify patterns of interstate illegal firearms trafficking,” wrote SFPD Chief Bill Scott.
The amount of ghost guns has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the California DOJ’s Bureau of Firearms, which maintains records of ghost gun seizures across California, there were only 26 ghost guns seizures in 2015. However, that number has increased dramatically each year since, peaking at 12,388 seizures in California in 2021.
Similarly, growth of seizures in San Francisco has been “exponential,” according to SFPD Chief Scott. In 2015, SFPD did not seize a single ghost gun in San Francisco, whereas in 2021, SFPD seized 217 ghost guns.
Ghost guns are increasingly involved in firearm-related crimes. The DOJ’s Bureau of Firearms has seen a rise in persons prohibited from possessing a firearm found to be in possession of ghost guns. Chief Scott wrote that privately manufactured firearms “are seized in relation to a wide range of criminal violations,” including “prohibited person in possession of a firearm, robbery, assault with a firearm, and homicide.”
The Motion to Enjoin the Sale of Ghost Gun Kits
Defendants Blackhawk Manufacturing Group, Inc., GS Performance, LLC, and MDX Corporation each sell ghost gun parts kits online, and thus are companies profiting off the illegal proliferation of ghost guns in California. The motion for preliminary injunction seeks to stop Defendants from selling their ghost gun parts kits immediately on the basis that such business practices are unfair, violate federal and California law, and pose a grave threat to public safety.
The motion contends that in selling ghost gun parts kits online, Defendants violate the federal Gun Control Act (GCA) by selling firearms without the requisite Federal Firearm License and circumventing basic federal requirements such as engraving serial numbers on firearms and running background checks on purchasers. Undercover investigators purchased ghost gun parts kits on each of Defendants’ websites without having to pass a background check.
The motion also contends that Defendants violate California law, including the Assembly of Firearms Law (AFL), which requires private manufacturers of firearms in California to apply for a serial number and undergo a background check. Defendants violate the AFL by, among other reasons, selling parts kits that lack the required steel plate to meet the AFL’s serialization requirements, and by aiding and abetting their end customers in making an end-around the AFL’s registration requirements.
Furthermore, California’s Unsafe Handgun Act (UHA) requires, among other things, that certain safety components be included in handguns manufactured in California. Defendants’ parts kits do not include these safety features, resulting in the assembly handguns that are not safe under California law. By selling parts kits which lack the required safety components for handguns, Defendants violate the UHA because they are causing the manufacture of unsafe handguns, and aiding and abetting their consumers to manufacture unsafe handguns.
“We ask the Court to stop Defendants from continuing to harm Californians while the judicial process takes its course, and we hope for a swift ruling that will make California safer by stopping the flood of ghost guns at their source,” said Esther Giffords of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The People’s motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard by Judge Anne-Christine Massullo on July 8, 2022, in the San Francisco Superior Court. The case is People of the State of California v. Blackhawk Manufacturing Group Inc., et al., Case No. CGC-21-594577.