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'Ghost guns are everywhere': San Diego's firefight continues to get ghost guns off of the street

San Diego PD recovered 545 ghost guns in 2021
Posted at 7:39 AM, Feb 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-21 14:54:16-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Ghost guns have been a continuing issue being tackled by the San Diego Police Department's recently formed ghost gun team, and local politicians.

There have been plenty of victims of ghost guns, and Steve Ely is one of them. He’s a retired schoolteacher who loves his family and enjoys catching a sweet set of waves.

"There's a friend of mine that was taking pictures and it was one of the last waves I caught before this incident happened,” said Ely, who was shot by a ghost gun.

That incident was the tragic shooting that happened in the Gaslamp Quarter last April. Ely was shot along with four others, including 28-year-old Justice Boldin, who died in the shooting.

RELATED: Victim in deadly Gaslamp shooting identified, was valet team member for ACE Parking

San Diego Police said the alleged shooter used a ghost gun.

"These guns, if you look on here, there's no serial number. Again, I know it's simple. They're just not traceable," said SDPD Lt. Paul Phillips.

Last July, the department created a specific squad, a Ghost Gun unit, putting ghost guns in their crosshairs.

ABC 10News sat down with one of the officers on the unit. Due to the nature of his casework, his face has been hidden, and his voice has been distorted.

"Ghost guns are everywhere. What we're seeing is that we're seeing them. I mean, every traffic stop or when we go to people's houses that might be on probation,” Phillips said. "Probably almost one maybe in four guns we get a day at least one of them is a ghost gun."

According to the SDPD, 545 ghost guns were recovered by the department in 2021. There were 211 in 2020 and 52 in 2019.

"We're after the people that are prohibited from owning guns,” Phillips said. "That's where we were targeting and along those lines. So, it was in different areas of the city really. But, obviously, a lot of our gang members we're coming across them with ghost guns."

Some of the ghost guns the department is coming across have alarming add-ons put on them.

"We're finding other things like auto-seers on these guns to make to make them fully automatic weapons,” Phillips said.

RELATED: San Diego County supervisors formally bans 'Ghost Guns'

It's clear that even with this dedicated task force hunting them down; ghost guns are still as prevalent as ever.

"The guns themselves unfortunately it's not hard to get,” Phillips said.

"Just now that you have so many different companies that are basically making this product and anybody can go buy them. You can go online," the Ghost Gun Unit officer added. "You can go to a different state. It doesn't matter. They will ship it to you.”

Since the heightened fight on ghost guns began, there's not just boots on the ground but also those in office.

San Diego City Councilmember Marni Von Wilpert's been advocating for local ordinances to make things tougher to get those parts for ghost guns.

"A year later, we've now looked and seen that local actions like the ENUF ordinance are inflicting the gun manufacture market,” Von Wilpert said. “And major manufacturers like Polymer 80 are now pre-serializing their kits which requires them to be treated like any other firearm."

Von Wilpert tells ABC 10News that adding those serial numbers would make them treated like any other firearm requiring background checks and waiting periods to keep the bare bones of the weapons out of the wrong hands.

And the work of the SDPD ghost gun team is far from over.

"Having this unit is making a dent. But we are catching up. They are out there and we're going to continue to find them and I wouldn't be surprised if our numbers do go up,” the ghost gun officer said.

As the fight to get ghost guns off the street continues, Ely’s recovered from his bout with a bullet; catching another sought-after wave.

"The police are doing what they can; they just have an immense job on their hands right now," Ely said. "Oh man, it's the hardest job in the country I'm sure."

The SDPD ghost gun team told ABC 10News from July 3, 2021, to December 31, 2021, the team recovered 112 firearms. A majority of them were ghost guns and some were serialized.