Originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune 

By Dianne Feinstein

Feinstein, a Democrat, is California’s senior U.S. senator. She was elected to the Senate in 1992 and lives in San Francisco.

Two years ago, a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita shot five classmates, killing two before turning the gun on himself. A year later, a retired San Jose police officer was shot as he tried to stop two men from stealing a car. And in April this year, a valet was killed during his shift at a boutique hotel in Downtown San Diego.

These three cases, and countless others like them, are all linked by a common thread: The shooter used manufacturers of components to make “ghost guns.” These unregistered, untraceable firearms are increasingly being used by criminals to avoid attention or background checks, and we must take action at every level of government to remove them from our streets.

Ghost guns are homemade firearms built using a kit or 3-D-printed parts. And because they’re not completed firearms when sold, ghost guns don’t have serial numbers and can be sold without background checks, making them nearly impossible to trace.

Manufacturers of ghost guns evade all federal regulations that apply to normal firearms by sending incomplete frames or receivers along with the necessary components to finish building a fully functional weapon.

Because of the anonymous nature of these guns, they often end up in the wrong hands. And they are contributing to the rise in gun violence throughout the United States, including in California.

In San Francisco, the number of ghost guns confiscated has increased over the last five years from six in 2016 to 164 in 2020. In the first five months of 2021, the San Francisco Police Department seized 91 ghost guns. In Oakland, 147 ghost guns were confiscated in the first six months of 2021, compared to just 43 in all of 2020. These firearms contributed to the 36 percent increase in homicides in the Bay Area during the first half of this year.

In Los Angeles, a major hub for underground firearms dealers, ghost guns now account for a third of all weapons recovered by police. The city is on pace to confiscate 1,500 ghost guns this year. And homicides are up 25 percent in the first half of 2021 compared to the same time last year; nearly three-quarters involved a firearm.

California has long been a champion for commonsense gun legislation at the state and local levels. So it’s no surprise we’re leading the way to ban these weapons.

In May, San Francisco became the first city in California to introduce legislation to ban the possession and sale of ghost gun kits and parts. And this week, the district attorney sued three manufacturers of ghost gun components.

In June, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo introduced a proposal to make it illegal to possess, manufacture or assemble a ghost gun.

And in early August in San Diego, where nearly 20 percent of all weapons seized the first half of this year lacked a serial number, the City Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of an ordinance to ban ghost guns.

The federal government, unfortunately, is lagging far behind in this area.

Under the leadership of President Joe Biden, the Justice Department issued a new rule in May that would require stronger regulations on ghost guns. The proposed rule would update the definition of a firearm and close a loophole that allows these guns to be sold without a serial number, allowing buyers to evade background checks.

In addition, the Justice Department recently launched a new federal strike force to directly target makers of local ghost guns in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington and the Bay Area. The aim is to disrupt the illegal flow of weapons into California from neighboring states while also targeting underground, unlicensed firearm dealers. I applaud the president’s commitment to this critical issue.

But the president’s actions could be undone by future administrations. That is why earlier this year, I joined Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., to introduce the Untraceable Firearms Act. Our bill would close the ghost gun loophole once and for all, making these untraceable firearms illegal.

This is a commonsense bill that Democrats and Republicans should support. No one should accept the presence of untraceable firearms in our communities.

It’s time for Congress to pass our bill and save lives.