SAN FRANCISCO—On Wednesday, August 18, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office announced that it submitted for filing a civil prosecution action against three corporations that manufacture and distribute ghost guns throughout California.  Keker, Van Nest & Peters, LLP and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence are co-counsel in the case.

“Today we directly take on those who are responsible for bringing these dangerous and unregulated weapons into the streets of San Francisco and throughout the state of California,” said District Attorney Chesa Boudin. “Ghost guns pose a grave threat to public safety; these untraceable firearms are readily available to children and prohibited persons.  We will hold the companies responsible for their manufacture and distribution accountable.  Our office is proud to be working with some of the nation’s finest trial lawyers at Keker, Van Nest, and Peters, as well as with some of the leading firearm litigation and regulatory experts in the country at the Giffords Law Center. Together we will confront the severity of the gun violence epidemic at its source.”

“Keker, Van Nest & Peters is proud to be partnering with District Attorney Boudin’s office on this groundbreaking litigation to hold ghost gun manufacturers and retailers accountable,” said John Keker of Keker, Van Nest & Peters.  “The defendants manufacture and sell dangerous weapons without verifying consumers’ ages or eligibility to buy guns.  These illegal practices allow children and others who cannot lawfully buy weapons to obtain them far too easily.  We look forward to our continued partnership with District Attorney Boudin’s office and the Giffords Law Center to prevent gun violence in California.”

“Ghost guns are flooding into communities across California and people are being killed as a result,” said Hannah Shearer, Litigation Director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.  “The companies named in our lawsuit are dealing in misinformation and profit directly from this violence. Their illegal business practices include selling ghost gun parts and kits to Californians who haven’t passed background checks. They also fail to disclose to the buyers that anyone who builds a ghost gun faces criminal liability if they fail to obtain a serial number or submit homemade handguns for safety testing. It is time to hold these reckless companies accountable for the deaths, violence, and criminal prosecutions caused by their disregard of federal and state firearm regulations and consumer protection laws.”

Firearms commonly referred to as “ghost guns” are untraceable, fully functional, unregistered guns pre-packaged for assembly by purchasers.  Also known as Privately Manufactured Firearms (PMFs), they are sold in kits containing the necessary components for the purchaser to assemble at home.  Countless YouTube videos and internet sites are available to guide a consumer in finalizing the gun assembly at home.  Assembly requires minimal tools and can be completed in less than an hour.

According to the SFDA’s Office, ghost guns do not come with serial numbers or other methods of tracing and the government is unable to track them or to regulate who has access to such weapons.

Pre-packaged kits supplied by ghost gun manufacturers and retailers allow easy and fast assembly of fully functional weapons. An officer acting under the direction of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office was able to assemble the pistol frame of one of the defendant’s ghost guns in 24 minutes and 40 seconds and attach it to a slide assembled in about five minutes.

The number of ghost guns connected with shootings in San Francisco rapidly increased in recent years. According to San Francisco Police Department data, in 2016 just six ghost guns were recovered by police; 164 ghost guns were recovered in 2020—an increase of 2000 percent. As of just August 2021, the San Francisco crime lab already processed over 150 ghost guns. These numbers represent those ghost guns the police actually recover, but fail to capture the entire number of ghost guns possessed and used in San Francisco.

Ghost guns impact investigations of firearm crimes and fuel cycles of gun violence. They are dangerous because they are assembled privately; they fail to undergo the rigorous safety testing required under the law.  These safety measures include drop safety testing to ensure a firearm will not accidentally discharge if dropped, as well as firing tests to ensure that the weapon can be fired multiple times without malfunction.  Lack of such of safety testing measures increases the danger of such weapons to children.

The District Attorney’s Office partnered with co-counsel Keker, Van Nest & Peters and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to bring this groundbreaking action against three named Defendants: Blackhawk Manufacturing Group, Inc.; GS Performance, LLC; MDX Corporation; and additional unknown defendants. To bring this suit, District Attorney Boudin invoked his civil powers under California law – a power that is given to district attorneys to civilly prosecute corporations for violating the law. The lawsuit seeks monetary penalties and an injunction prohibiting defendants from violating federal and state gun laws.

It is alleged that Defendants’ business practices violate the California Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), Business and Professions Code sections 17200 et seq., and the California False Advertising Law (“FAL”), Business and Professions Code sections 17500 et seq.  The UCL prohibits unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices in California.  Ghost gun manufacturers and retailers do not comply with lawful business practices and evade the laws governing the manufacture, sale, and possession of firearms—laws designed to protect consumer and public safety. There are many requirements under California law for gun ownership and registration, but the Complaint alleges ghost gun companies mislead consumers into believing ghost guns are legal, thereby engaging in false advertising and fraudulent business practices.

The lawsuit further alleges ghost gun companies violate the federal Gun Control Act, which requires serial numbers on all firearms and requires that all firearms sales take place through a Federal Firearm Licensee, which must run background checks. It also alleges violations of the California Assembly of Firearms Law, which forecloses any ghost gun loopholes by requiring that private manufacturers of firearms apply to the California DOJ for a serial number—and to undergo background checks.

The defendants are accused of undermining the California Unsafe Handguns Act (“UHA”), which requires that handguns—including ghost guns—sold within California meet certain reliability and safety standards—including a firing test and a drop safety test.  Some of the defendants are accused of violating the California Manufacture of Firearms Law, requiring any federally-licensed firearms manufacturer who manufactures at least 50 firearms per year to obtain a California firearm manufacturing license—which itself comes with specific obligations, including engraving of serial numbers.