Denver to consider outlawing homemade, untraceable 'ghost guns'
"Ghost guns are being used to commit crimes in Denver and we are trying to get ahead of that curve," a city official said
The Denver Post
DENVER — Denver's top leaders want to ban untraceable, homemade "ghost guns" from the city in an attempt to stop the weapons' influx as they become more common nationwide.
Ghost guns are firearms without serial numbers that can be assembled at home from kits purchased online or created using 3D printers, Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson said Wednesday at a meeting of the Denver City Council's Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee.
Her office, with the support of Mayor Michael Hancock, is asking the City Council to pass an ordinance that would prohibit the possession, use, or manufacturing of any gun without a serial number. If a law is passed, people caught with a ghost gun would face up to 300 days in jail and a $999 fine.
"Cities across America are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of crimes involving ghost guns, and Denver is not immune," Bronson said. "A person who would otherwise be banned from purchasing a gun legally — an underage teen, a felon or someone under a red flag order — can currently evade gun laws by purchasing non-serialized parts or ghost gun kits."
The guns are problematic because buyers do not undergo a background check or have to meet minimum age requirements for purchasing a gun, Senior Assistant City Attorney Reginald Nubine said. And law enforcement cannot trace the gun's purchase or ownership history because the guns do not have a serial number.
Selling build-at-home gun kits is legal under federal law, but some states have passed legislation to restrict their use. Websites for companies that sell the kits online boast of circumventing paperwork needed to purchase guns with serial numbers and the privacy of an unregistered purchase. One seller's website states building the guns takes only a few hours and they can often be delivered within a week.
"If you can build IKEA furniture, you can make one of these weapons yourself," Nubine said.
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Federal law enforcement agencies recovered 23,906 ghost guns between 2016 and 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The number confiscated increased every year from the 1,750 collected in 2016 to 8,712 in 2020. Officers found 325 of the guns at scenes of homicides or attempted homicides, according to the ATF.
Denver police have confiscated 38 ghost guns since November 2019, though the number of guns in the city is likely much higher, Nubine said. The ghost guns represent about 2% of the 1,907 guns seized during that time.
"While our numbers are not that high, ghost guns are being used to commit crimes in Denver and we are trying to get ahead of that curve," Bronson said.
Denver police on Wednesday could not immediately provide information about what types of crimes the confiscated ghost guns were connected with, department spokeswoman Christine Downs said. The department does not take positions on proposed municipal legislation, she said.
City councilmembers signaled strong support for the ordinance change during the committee meeting Wednesday. The committee of seven unanimously voted to forward the proposal to the full council for a vote.
"It's kind of scary to think how easy it is for our talented kids to put together weapons in the privacy of their homes, so we're moving forward as quickly as possible," Councilman Paul Kashmann said during the meeting.
One of the goals of the legislation is to pressure companies that sell build-at-home gun kits to start using serial numbers, Nubine said. New York City, San Diego and Philadelphia are among eight U.S. cities that have passed similar legislation.
"The more local jurisdictions who enact laws like this will cause a change in the market for these weapons," Nubine said. "We want to cause some disruption in the market."
The proposed ordinance also mirrors efforts at the federal level to close the loophole that allows ghost guns to escape regulation. The U.S. Department of Justice in May asked the ATF to update its definition of a firearm to include ghost guns, noting that gun technology has evolved radically since the definition was written 50 years ago.
Current regulations mandate a serial number be printed on a gun's frame or receiver — the part that brings together the hammer, bolt and firing mechanism. Guns used by the general public at the time the regulations were written were primarily "single-framed" firearms. Many guns now are more complex and have multi-part frames or receivers, which can be sold separately or unassembled, thus circumventing the regulations because the unassembled parts do not constitute a firearm under federal law.
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