LA sues 'ghost gun' maker Polymer80; LAPD says over 700 seized weapons tied to its parts
The LAPD says last year 40% of guns recovered by law enforcement were 'ghost guns,' weapons made from kits that don't require background checks
By Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — When two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were wounded by a gunman near the Compton Metro station last year, it was seemingly unconnected to a killing of three people during a home invasion robbery in Glendale a year before.
There were different assailants and the guns weren't the same, authorities say. But, as investigators would later discover, both weapons were so-called ghost guns, made from kits without traceable registrations or requirements for background checks on purchasers.
"The components of those guns were manufactured by a company called Polymer80," a Nevada manufacturer that has become infamous among police officers investigating shootings, Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said Wednesday.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said more than 700 ghost guns seized in Los Angeles last year were made from parts bought from that company. More than 300 were seized in South Los Angeles, where homicides soared last year to levels not seen in a decade.
Feuer, Moore and City Councilman Paul Krekorian on Wednesday announced the city is suing Polymer80, one of the nation's largest sellers of ghost gun kits and component parts.
"Untraceable ghost guns are now the emerging guns of choice across the nation," Feuer said. "Nobody who could buy a serialized gun and pass a background check would ever need a ghost gun. Yet we allege Polymer80 has made it easy for anyone, including felons, to buy and build weapons that pose a major public safety threat."
[READ: 6 reasons why your agency needs a certified firearm specialist]
The lawsuit, filed along with the gun control advocacy group Everytown Law in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges those kits are being sold in violation of federal and California gun laws. It comes on the heels of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives raiding the company based on suspicion that it was illegally manufacturing and distributing firearms. That investigation focuses on the company's "Buy Build Shoot" kit, which consumers can purchase online, then assemble at home a fully functioning weapon, according to a search warrant affidavit.
LAPD Commercial Crimes served a search warrant in Downtown LA at a manufacturing & distribution location for counterfeit vapes. Confiscated was over $7 million dollars in counterfeit goods and three illegal assault weapons, one of them a “Ghost Gun”.— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) February 9, 2021
“to protect and to serve” pic.twitter.com/5RGKM0yO9i
The lawsuit alleges the firm's advertisements promoting internet sales mislead consumers that its business model is lawful. "Polymer80's business model makes a mockery of federal and state background check laws," Feuer said. "A customer on their website is asked to simply self-certify they are not a felon."
Feuer said the lawsuit seeks an abatement fund from any payout by the manufacturer to help with the violence associated with those guns.
Last year, about a third of all weapons recovered by law enforcement were ghost guns, Moore said. In Los Angeles, it was even higher, about 40%, Moore added. The Sheriff's Department saw its seizures of ghost guns jump by 50% last year.
The ATF this year determined that Polymer80's kits meet the definition of a firearm under the law, and that includes not-assembled parts. The warrant used to search Polymer80's headquarters in December said the kits are subject to federal gun laws, such as background checks on buyers, which "it appears that Polymer80 does not conduct."
Pistols derived from Polymer80's components have been used in hundreds of crimes, according to the search warrant on the company headquarters in Dayton, Nev. Eighty-six percent of the ghost guns seized and entered into the ATF database — 1,278 firearms — were derived from Polymer80, according to the lawsuit. Its products easily outnumber those of other manufacturers in weapons seizures by police, the suit said.
Last night @LAPDRampart Watch 5 Officers Moran and Hernandez recovered this 9mm pistol with no serial number, from a traffic stop. One more ghost gun off the streets. Great job!!! pic.twitter.com/jGygwJ5mCb— LAPD Rampart (@LAPDRampart) October 11, 2020
According to the lawsuit, Polymer80 sells kits to make weapons including AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles and Glock-style semiautomatic handguns. Polymer80's shipping records between 2019 and Oct. 13, 2020, showed it moved nearly 52,000 items, including nearly 1,500 Buy Build Shoot kits. California was the top destination for those kits, with 202 shipped. According to the ATF, some of those kits were delivered to addresses in California where known felons, who are not eligible to possess firearms, resided.
In Los Angeles, Moore said, ghost guns are a "significant influencer" in the surge of gun crime because they give criminals who aren't allowed access to firearms the ability to get weapons.
"These are the weapons being used on other Angelenos," he said. "They are being used by individuals with no right or ability to legally possess a firearm."
Moore said the department is now checking all seized ghost guns to determine their makers.
Moore said more than 17 murders or attempted murders have been tied to ghost guns in the city last year. He said he could not say whether those were Polymer80 weapons.
The chief added that gang members "are bragging and flouting they can readily acquire these weapons." Moore said it is not that gang members necessarily buy them directly, but that there is a "supply chain" assembling these parts in garages and machine shops and they are then sold on the streets.
Polymer80's attorney has previously said that it sells parts legally and complies with all legal requirements for firearms manufacturing. It has attempted to intervene in lawsuits against the ATF over the agency's failure to require ghost guns be classified as a firearm, including one involving the Saugus High School shooting, where a student used a ghost gun to shoot five students, killing two of them, before turning the gun on himself.
Councilman Krekorian, who led a City Council effort to fund the litigation, said ghost guns circumvent the fundamental principles that have long limited the access of firearms to lawful owners.
"These merchants of death misuse the internet to be able to sell guns in parts that allow possession of guns and magazines that otherwise would not be legal," he said.
Without registration stamps on the guns, he added, the job of law enforcement is all the more difficult in solving gun crimes. And worst still, he said, the ghost gun makers make their money selling to people they know should not have these weapons.
The attorney general for the District of Columbia sued the manufacturer in June alleging false advertising
and illegal sales.
In August, Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, a coalition of state and local prosecutors including Feuer, filed amicus briefs supporting ongoing litigation by Everytown against the ATF seeking to compel it to regulate ghost guns under federal law.
In the last two years, California, Connecticut, Washington, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Rhode Island have enacted laws to regulate ghost guns.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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