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Denver city council to vote on banning ghost guns

Ghost guns are unregistered, non-traceable firearms that are typically purchased online and assembled by the user or made using a 3D printer

DENVER, Colorado — Ghost guns are legal in the state of Colorado, but the Denver city council will soon consider and vote on banning them on a municipal level. 

A 'ghost gun' is a colloquial term used to reference an unregistered firearm that is also untraceable. They are homemade firearms that do not have serial numbers or markings that would enable them to be tracked by a maker, seller or investigator if they are used in a crime.  

Most are ordered online by purchasing individual gun parts or by purchasing a firearm kit, which contains all the parts necessary to assemble the gun. Ghost guns can also be made using a 3D printer with a blueprint. 

Current federal law requires complete frames and receivers to have a serial number. Receivers that are not fully finished, such as ghost guns, are not currently considered a firearm and do not require a background check for purchase. 

City Attorney Kristin Bronson is spearheading a new ordinance that would make it illegal to possess, discharge, own, sell or manufacture ghost guns in city limits. A key portion of the ordinance would also be surrendering the gun. 

"This particular bill is intended to close the loophole in our city's gun laws relating to ghost guns," said Bronson presenting to city council members at the Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee last week. "Across the country, we are seeing an increase in crimes where ghost guns are used. Denver is not immune to this trend unfortunately." 

From 2016 to 2020, statistics from the Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information shows a significant increase in ghost guns recovered from crime scenes in the U.S. In 2016, law enforcement agencies recovered 1,750 ghost guns. In 2020, that number jumped to 8,712. 

At least 23,906 non-serialized guns were found by investigators at crime scenes, including 325 homicides or attempted homicides within that time frame as well. 

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Bronson told committee members those numbers, however, are expected to be much lower than what is occurring because many law enforcement agencies nationwide do not have a categorizing system to accurately keep information on ghost guns.  

"We are seeing them more at crime scenes. We have not seen the exponential jump that some major cities and frankly, the state of California has seen, but that's partially why we are acting now," said Bronson. "We want to get ahead of the curve before we see the kind of problems with ghost guns that we are seeing in other states.

Because the serial number contains vital information, it helps law enforcement solve crimes. Without that information, it can also be difficult for families and victims receive closure through the criminal justice system. 

"We do think this is an important piece of public safety legislation, and it’s closing a loophole ahead of the problem getting unmanageable. Right now, it’s a problem. It is a big problem. It has led to homicides, fatalities, suicides - we need to step in and do something," said Bronson. 

The city attorney and her team hope the proposal could also address some of the youth violence happening within the community. 

"Youth gun violence is at an all-time high right now in Denver, and one of the ways that we need to tackle that is getting guns out of the hands of young people and one of those ways is responsible gun ownership of course," said Bronson.

"It's kind of scary to think how easy it is for our talented kids to put together weapons in the privacy of their own home. We will move forward as quickly as we can," said Councilmember Paul Kashmann, District 6. 

If passed, anyone convicted of possessing a non-serialized firearm would have to forfeit the weapon. They could also be subjected to a fine of up to $999 and up to 300 days in jail. 

The proposal will be read at full City Council on December 20. It will then have a second hearing prior to council members voting on the issue. It passed last Wednesday at committee without any objections.

If passed, the city attorney's office says there will be some kind of grace period for hobbyists and other gun owners to come into compliance with the ordinance.

Right now, eight U.S. cities and counties currently have a ban in place alongside 11 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington. 

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