The .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol used by the Santa Clarita school shooter to kill two of his classmates and wound three others last week was assembled from a kit of spare firearm parts, known as a “ghost gun.”
And a second ghost gun was discovered at his family’s home, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told KABC.
Assembling ghost guns was initially a niche hobby enjoyed by firearm enthusiasts. But they’ve also become attractive to criminals or criminal enterprises because the firearm kits — mostly ordered online — don’t have serial numbers, making it difficult for investigators to trace them back to their owner once they’re recovered at a crime scene.
Still, they continue to be highly unregulated in most parts of the country. Currently only three states —California, Connecticut and New Jersey — have laws regulating ghost guns. Under California law, anyone assembling a homemade firearm is required to obtain a serial number from the state and undergo a background check. But that law doesn’t appear to be having much effect: a joint investigation by the Trace and NBC News earlier this year found that a third of firearms recovered in the state of California were “ghost guns.”
The Santa Clarita suspect’s father died two years ago and was described as a hunter in his obituary. Villanueva said that he previously owned six guns, all of which were taken away and destroyed after his death. Villanueva added that the suspect’s father was deemed a “prohibited possessor” and was not legally allowed to own a gun, but he didn’t explain why.
It’s not clear whether the shooter, who died days later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, assembled the guns himself.
It’s been a little over a week since the shooting at Saugus High School upended the Santa Clarita community, 40 miles north of LA. Still, not much is known about what led the shooter, a track-and-field athlete, to open fire on his classmates on the morning of his 16th birthday.
Villaneuva told KABC that law enforcement had unlocked the shooter’s cellphone and were working with federal agencies to access it. “The why is still a mystery,” Villanueva said.
A recently released DOJ-funded study of mass shooters found that school shooters tended to be a student of the school, have a history of trauma, are suicidal, and plan their crime extensively. Had the Santa Clarita shooter assembled his own ghost guns, that would indicate a high degree of planning and premeditation for violence.
Cover: This undated photo provided by the Office of Attorney General of New Jersey shows parts of guns confiscated after being sold by mail order from a California company. New Jersey's attorney general announced a lawsuit Friday, March 22, 2019, against the California company that sells mail-order firearms parts that can be turned into working weapons, the first such action the state has taken since it banned so-called "ghost guns" last year. (Office of Attorney General of New Jersey via AP)