Crime

Denver City Council Considering Ban of Ghost Guns

Denver could crack down on ghost guns.
Denver could crack down on ghost guns. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
Citing the nationwide increase of unserialized firearms, the City of Denver is considering banning "ghost guns."

"This particular bill is intended to close the loophole in our city's gun laws relating to ghost guns. These are unregistered, untraceable firearms that don't have serial numbers that are assembled from parts that you can buy online or that you can make yourself or by others using 3D printers," City Attorney Kristin Bronson said during a December 8 Denver City Council Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness committee meeting, during which she presented a proposal that would ban the weapons.

Ghost guns have become more popular across the United States in recent years. Kits purchased online can quickly be converted to a firearm, and since these kits are not regulated as firearms, ghost-gun manufacturers aren't required to place serial numbers on the components. Without a serial number, the ghost gun kits don't require a background check for potential purchasers.

"Individuals that shouldn't have these weapons and that would not be able to obtain these weapons through normal processes can now make the weapons themselves. They haven't undergone a background check, so a felon could use this, a kid...could make one of these weapons," Reggie Newbine, an assistant Denver city attorney, said at the meeting.

According to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the number of ghost guns found at crime scenes nationwide jumped from 1,750 in 2016 to 8,712 in 2020.

The Denver Police Department "is finding ghost guns in our city, and they are being used to perpetrate crimes or for suicide," Newbine added. "We had one statistic from DPD that a ghost gun was found during the implementation of a crime. The individual in question ended up shooting himself with the ghost gun."

Since November 2019, the Denver Police Department has seized 38 ghost guns — about 2 percent of the firearms recovered during that time period. Crimes that involve ghost guns can be tougher to solve because of the lack of a serial number that would link them to an owner.

Eight U.S. cities and counties, including New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, have passed ghost-gun legislation, as have eleven states, such as New Jersey, Virginia and Nevada. But four cities and one state have also faced legal challenges over their ghost-gun regulations.

The administration of Joe Biden has already proposed new federal rules that would further limit the spread of ghost guns.

The proposal that the council committee voted to move to the full Denver City Council would make it illegal to possess, wear, carry, transport, display, discharge, manufacture or sell a ghost gun or the two main components of a gun — the frame and receiver — if they're non-serialized. A conviction for possession of a ghost gun would carry a maximum fine of $999 and up to 300 days in jail.

The councilmembers who spoke at the meeting were all supportive of the ghost gun ban. "I think it's unfortunate how easily accessible this is, especially on the internet," Councilmember Amanda Sandoval said. "Thank you for proactively working on this. This is an important piece of legislation for the safety of Denver and our residents."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.