Saugus High shooting victims’ parents join state lawsuit over ghost guns

Balloons and flowers stand in front of Saugus High School which was still closed for investigation on Friday, November 15, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

In attempting to learn how to easy it is to purchase a ghost gun kit, the kind that killed his daughter Gracie Anne Muehlberger during the Saugus High School shooting in 2019, Bryan Muehlberger used his slain daughter’s name earlier this year for a transaction, and in less than two minutes, the online order went through successfully. 

“If the company had done any investigation just Googling her name, they would have learned that not only was Gracie barely 15 and no longer with us, but that she was also killed by a ghost gun,” he said Tuesday during a virtual press conference with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Bryan Muehlberger and Frank Blackwell, whose 14-year-old son Dominic was also fatally shot during the Nov. 14 school shooting, are now spearheading a lawsuit with Becerra to crack down on the ghost guns that are typically bought online for self-building without a background check. 

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday against the Trump administration, demands that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, qualify ghost guns as firearms so that they are subject to the same regulations as other guns. 

“Anyone can make them, anyone can carry them, anyone can fire,” said Becerra. “And because they lack serial numbers, these ghost guns cannot be traced by law enforcement agents. These homemade weapons have tragically been used in mass shootings across the country.”

ATF officials said they don’t comment on pending litigation. Bureau officials have said the ghost guns, also referred to as “80% receivers and frames,” are not firearms and not subject to the same regulations because they haven’t reached the manufacturing process stage to qualify them as guns. 

The National Shooting Sports Foundation and other firearm advocates have argued that do-it-yourself guns have always been legal and that prohibiting law-abiding hobbyists from building their own guns takes away their constitutional rights. 

The same argument was recently raised by the foundation with proposed New York legislation to ban the sale of said firearms, criticizing New York Gov. Andrew Cumo in a January statement on its website over working on “even more ineffective policies that would mostly turn law-abiding American citizens into criminals.”

In California, ghost guns make up 30% of guns recovered in crimes, according to Hannah Shearer, a litigation director for Giffords Law Center, which is also part of the lawsuit. She added that the state has 18 of the 80 online retailers. 

The weapon used during the Saugus High School shooting, which was used by a 16-year-old gunman who fatally shot two and wounded three other students before killing himself, was deemed a form of a “kit gun” and not manufactured conventionally, meaning that it was “assembled by a consumer rather than a manufacturer, from pieces bought separately,” said Lt. Brandon Dean with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau during a previous interview. 

“Ghost gun sales are also surging during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is raising serious concerns that people who are prohibited from possessing firearms based on their criminal or mental health history may be obtaining ghost guns while stay at home orders are in place,” read the lawsuit. 

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