More shooting deaths, increase in ghosts guns have LBPD focused on untraceable firearms

Thirty-four people died in Long Beach last year in gun-related homicides, a spike from the 20 reported in 2020, and despite increasing gun seizures, police are pointing at ghost guns as the cause, in part, because they can be made using 3D printers.

“This is pretty alarming,” Councilwoman Suely Saro said Friday after a presentation from police to the City Council’s public safety committee.

During the presentation, Long Beach police officials highlighted an increase citywide in shootings, ghost gun seizures and gun-related arrests.

Long Beach saw 37 murders in 2021, the same as in 2020, police said. But of the 37 homicides in 2020, 20 of them involved someone being shot. In 2021, that number grew to 34.

Additionally, 185 out of the 1,068 guns seized in 2021 were ghost guns, a privately made firearm made from plastic, and sometimes metal, often using a 3D printer, police said. No license is required to make these guns and they are known to not have serial numbers, making it more difficult for police to track. Two of the 37 homicides in 2021 involved a ghost gun, police said.

The issue of gun violence isn’t restricted to Long Beach. It’s a growing trend nationwide that accelerated during the pandemic. More guns also made their way into the hands of the public as droves of people waited in lines that stretched down blocks to buy guns and ammunition.

Deputy Chief Robert Smith, who oversees the police department’s investigation bureau, told the council that the situation has become even more challenging for law enforcement across the country due to the money that can be made in manufacturing assault rifles and handguns using a 3D printer.

“Gang members, like you mentioned, are definitely involved in the sale and distribution and the use of these ghost guns,” Smith told Councilwoman Suzie Price, who asked if private sellers were also producing ghost guns or if it could be attributed to local and state gangs. “But I don’t think it’s just gangs that’s involved in that. It’s a combination.”

3D printers are not illegal to own, and it’s difficult to regulate what people make on them and even more difficult for police to track down who is using them to create ghost guns and parts, LBPD Chief Wally Hebeish said. Hebeish was also adamant about the need to apply civil penalties to people in possession of 3D-printed ghost gun parts or drafts that show an intention to create those parts.

“The possession of those parts after they’re manufactured, that’s what’s going to give us the ability to impact the people that are possessing and selling those parts that are put together to cause violence in our community,” Hebeish said.

He proposed adopting a municipal code, similar to San Diego’s Eliminate Non-Serialized Untraceable Firearms Ordinance, that would prohibit the possession or distribution of parts without serial numbers that are used in the creation or possession of ghost guns and the 3D printing of firearms or parts. Additionally, it would make it illegal for manufacturers to evade background checks and registration when selling ghost gun parts.

By making the manufacturers of ghost gun parts go through the proper channels, police would be able to track the parts from creation to crime, Hebeish said.

In the meantime, the public safety committees agreed to present a letter of support to the City Council for AB1621, which aims to combat ghost guns in a similar way to San Diego’s ordinance. The bill was introduced last month by Assemblymember Mike Gipson who represents the 64th District.

Los Angeles County firearms sweep nets more than 100 guns

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Fernando Haro is the Long Beach Post's breaking news and public safety reporter.
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