An Uzi submachine gun, five carbines, a Glock semi-automatic pistol made with a 3D printer… Leaning over large black dumpsters installed in the parking lot of the New Hope Baptist Church in Los Angeles, Sergeant Rudy Hernandez performs a first assessment of the weapons recovered this morning by his team. This police officer participates in a vast annual operation called “gun buyback”, organized on five different sites across the city. This aims to encourage holders of illegally acquired weapons to come and get rid of them anonymously in exchange for vouchers worth a few hundred dollars.
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“The local Baptist church lent us its site for the occasionexplains Rudy Hernandez. Everything happens anonymously: we collect weapons from the trunks of their owners’ cars. Then we unload them in this secure cratehe explains, pointing to a large yellow barrel filled with sand. The weapons are then sent to the port of Los Angeles for destruction. »
This year, the Los Angeles police are mainly looking to get their hands on a new type of firearm, the number of which has exploded over the last decade, and more particularly since the Covid-19 crisis: “ghost guns”. “, ghost weapons purchased in spare parts on the Internet or very easy to assemble using a 3D printer, which do not have a serial number and are therefore untraceable.
More and more popular weapons
“California’s gun laws are among the strictest in the country,” recalls Rudy Hernandez. The background checks (criminal record check) are mandatory. Both the seller of the weapon and the buyer must also obtain a permit. “These kit weapons are a way of circumventing these restrictive laws, because individual parts are not considered weapons and therefore do not require a permit”, adds the police sergeant.
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In the shade of the church, municipal employees distribute vouchers to people who have come to get rid of their weapons. “Ghost guns are increasingly popular with local gangs, testifies Chris Real, a thirty-year-old who carries out preventive actions with young people in the district. A few weeks ago, the police raided a tattoo parlor a few blocks from here and seized about 20 ghost weapons made there. »
Arms manufacturers threatened with lawsuits
To fight against their proliferation, California is trying to legislate. In the past two years, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles have passed ordinances prohibiting the possession and sale of non-serialized “ghost guns” or certain spare parts.
At the state level, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced his support for a bill using the same mechanism as that of the new Texas Republican law (“SB8”) restricting abortion, passed in September: ci empowers citizens to directly sue doctors who break the law. In California, ordinary citizens could sue the manufacturers of weapons in parts.
“The future of this bill is uncertain. Chances are it will be considered contrary to the Second Amendment,” notes David Kopel, professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver. According to this expert, the Californian initiative does not fail to worry pro-gun activists in the Golden State, who “had been anticipating for several months the possibility that the Texas law could be instrumentalized” by opponents of phantom weapons. The fight against ghost guns has only just begun.
A dramatic increase in violent crime
In 2020, the United States experienced a very significant increase in violent crime: + 30% homicides in 2020 compared to 2019. According to the federal government, this increase is partly attributable to the increase in the number of phantom weapons in circulation.
California is the state most affected by this phenomenon: 65% of “ghost guns” seized in 2020 by police in the country were circulating in the Golden State.
In its draft budget for 2023, presented Monday, March 28, the Biden administration plans an allocation of $ 1.7 billion to combat gun violence.