LOS ANGELES - Amid an increase in homicides and gun violence in Los Angeles and nationwide, the Los Angeles Police Department reported to the police commission Tuesday on the "epidemic" of ghost guns, which the department says have increased "exponentially over the last year."
The virtually untraceable weapons, which don't have serial numbers, have increased by about 400% in Los Angeles since 2017, according to the LAPD's data on recovered firearms.
Police Chief Michel Moore told the commission that the 14-year-old suspect who allegedly shot an LAPD officer driving to work last Thursday is believed to have used a ghost gun in the attack.
Ghost guns can be assembled by unlicensed buyers from legally purchased kits. The LAPD reported that a polymer 9mm ghost handgun takes between 30 minutes and two hours to assemble.
The unfinished parts are inexpensive and not required under federal law to have serial numbers or a background check to purchase. According to the gun control advocacy organization Everytown For Gun Safety, an AR-15 ghost gun kit and lower receiver can be purchased for $345.
"The current trend shows these figures will continue to grow exponentially," the LAPD said in its report, which notes that 3D printing allows the components to be more accessible. The report is next being sent to the City Council Public Safety Committee.
"Ghost guns are replacing firearms people would normally purchase, with no background checks required," the LAPD report said.
Between January and June of this year, 863 ghost guns were recovered, more than the 813 recovered during the entire year of 2020. So far in 2021, 1,445 ghost guns have been recovered, a 202% increase over last year.
"It's dramatically going up, and it is going to eclipse last year's totals, potentially by 1,000 plus guns," LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher told the police commission Tuesday.
Pitcher drew a connection between an increase in ghost guns and an increase in crime, saying "in 2021, the city has experienced 320 homicides, we're up 15.9%, and in terms of shootings, we've had 1,165 so far, which is an increase of 20%. So, I want to make the connectivity there as ghost guns are being recovered more frequently."
Between January and September, 14 ghost guns were recovered from homicide scenes, 15 from robberies and 50 from assaults with deadly weapons.
Moore -- who has stated multiple times that he believes there are "too many guns in too many hands" -- said Tuesday that "the presence of firearms in the hands of our people, I believe, is one of our most significant challenges were' trying to counter.
"I appeal to our communities, that we have too many guns in too many hands," he reiterated, before calling on the public to stop friends and family members from carrying firearms, "because in a spat of anger and a spat of frustration, people are resorting to the use of these firearms and it's resulting in the loss of life."
Nationally, 8,712 ghost guns were recovered in 2020, while only 2,507 were recovered in 2017, the LAPD said, citing a report from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The LAPD report, while citing an approximate 400% increase in the city in that time span, did not provide specific numbers.
In 2020, 3,400 Californians were killed by gun violence, and a memorial to them opened in Exposition Park on Monday as part of a nationwide effort by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., to install memorials to remember victims and advocate for stricter gun laws.
The City Council on Aug. 31 took a major step toward prohibiting the possession, purchase, sale, receipt and transportation of ghost guns in Los Angeles by ordering the City Attorney's Office to draft an ordinance.
"When we see an increase in homicides here, and when we see that the LAPD reports that 40% of the crime guns recovered are ghost guns, we know that we have a very urgent critical situation that needs to be addressed," Councilman Paul Krekorian said before the unanimous vote to pass the motion he introduced with Councilman Paul Koretz on Aug. 10.
That motion also directed the LAPD to report on the impact of ghost guns in Los Angeles through the report presented to the police commission on Tuesday.
Officials have said that ghost guns were used during a 2013 shooting at Santa Monica College in which six people, including the shooter, died; a series of shootings in Tehama County in 2017, in which five people died; and the 2019 shooting at Saugus High School, in which three students, including the shooter, were killed and three others were injured.
Once the City Attorney's Office prepares the draft ordinance, it will be sent to the council for a vote.
Krekorian introduced a motion approved in February to authorize City Attorney Mike Feuer to negotiate contracts with two law firms to receive their pro bono services to develop and implement legal strategies to combat ghost guns.
Tune in to FOX 11 Los Angeles for the latest Southern California news.