YMCA-hosted student debate discusses ‘ghost guns’

The SCV YMCA holds a bill hearing night where delegates practice oratory skills and present mock legislative bills at the Old Town Newhall Library Monday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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Every year, local teens from the Santa Clarita Valley YMCA’s Youth and Government chapter gather at the start of the school year and discuss current issues in hopes of fighting for and passing a bill they write through a model legislature in Sacramento. 

This year’s top issue “hit close to home,” or as some students put it: ghost guns. 

On Monday evening at the Old Town Newhall Library, more than 50 people listened as 10 high school delegates from across multiple SCV campuses debated whether to ban ghost guns following the deadly Nov. 14 shooting at Saugus High School that left three teenagers dead, including the attacker, and wounded three others. 

An unserialized weapon, commonly known as a “ghost gun” or “kit gun,” was used in the school shooting, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau. These firearms can be 3-D printed or assembled with parts sold separately and require no background check. In California, it is legal to buy parts online and assemble certain classes of weapons, but the law does require serial numbers for self-made firearms. 

The delegates discussed a bill to amend section 16590 of the California Penal Code relating to prohibited weapons, suggesting a ban on all ghost guns and parts needed to build them. 

“While it’s true this bill may not eliminate the issue entirely, if even just one life can be saved by banning ghost guns, that should make passing this bill worth it,” said bill supporter and delegate Jasmine Johnson. “Do it for the Saugus High shooting victims: Dominic Blackwell and Gracie Anne Muehlberger.” 

Opponents questioned how to handle existing ghost guns.

“One of the problems with this bill is that it does not address what will be done with all the legal ghost guns that are currently in existence,” said delegate Julia Runkle. “Are we going to do a mandatory buy-back?”

From a legislative analyst perspective, program president and student Devin Patel said the bill “would not cost the California state government any significant amount of money to simply place a ban on ghost guns.” Should a buy-back process be stipulated it could cost the government close to $2.5 billion, assuming an average cost of $800 per gun, he added. 

After hearing from both sides, the majority of attendees voted to pass the bill. The students had originally planned to cover a different topic, but following the Saugus High incident, “we decided to shift our focus, since this one hit very close to home,” said Olivia Hurst, a Saugus High student and the program’s vice president.

Delegates also discussed a bill on maternity and paternity leave. Monday’s event was part of the program’s Bill Hearing Night, in which students debate, pass or kill bills pertaining to the California Senate and Assembly. 

In February, the students are scheduled to join more than 3,000 other high school students in Sacramento to participate in the annual YMCA’s model government program to get a firsthand experience of the three branches of government and participate in a mock democratic process. 

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