One Saturday evening in the fall of 2020, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Claudia Apolinar and her partner parked their police cruiser in downtown Compton with plans to look over a subway train stop. Suddenly, Apolinar heard gunshots from the passenger side of the car. Then came a hot, sharp pain.
Apolinar tried to call for help, but one of the bullets cut her tongue apart. Her partner, Deputy Emmanuel Perez-Perez, tried to open the passenger door to confront the shooter. But his arm was struck, and he could not use his right hand.
The ambush in September 2020, detailed in a civil lawsuit filed last year, left Apolinar and Perez-Perez with serious injuries. Three days later, police arrested the man they say carried out the attack, Deonte Murray, in connection with an unrelated carjacking. Authorities have found a “ghost gun” – a firearm built from a kit that anyone can buy without a background check – that they say Murray used to shoot Apolinar and Perez-Perez. (Murray pleads not guilty to all charges in both shooting and carjacking. He is being held on a $ 6.1 million bond in the pending lawsuit.)
It is not clear from court records how Murray got the gun. The difficulty of tracking down where ghost weapons come from is part of what makes them so attractive to criminals – and so far as liability. But one thing was clear: the “P80” logo was stamped on the base of his grip.
Los Angeles was a hot spot for ghost guns, experts say. Last year, the Los Angeles Police Department recovered 8,661 firearms. Of those, 1,921 – or more than 22 percent – were ghost weapons.
And, according to LAPD data included in a recent lawsuit, 1,722 of these ghost weapons – nearly 90 percent – were made from kits produced by a single company: Polymer80.
Nevada-based Polymer80 is one of the largest manufacturers of do-it-yourself mind gun kits in the country. But that success also put the company on the cross. Apolinar and Perez-Perez sued the company last year. Their suit – which alleges Polymer80 acted negligently and violated firearms laws – follows cases brought by the City of Los Angeles and Washington, DC, which also accuse the company of ignoring state and federal gun laws.
In December 2020, agents with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched the company’s headquarters in Dayton, Nevada. The government in its search warrant affidavit claims that Polymer80 sells firearms without conducting mandatory background checks, marking weapons with serial numbers or obtaining the required records, including violations.
A spokesman for ATF declined to comment on the status of any investigation into Polymer80.
A lawyer for Polymer80 said after the raid that it was cooperating with the investigation.
Reached by phone, Polymer80’s president, Loran L. Kelley Jr., stressed that the company was not charged with any crime and disputed the ATF’s allegations that the company’s intellectual property kits qualify as firearms under federal law. are regulated. He declined to comment on the relevant civil laws, citing advice from the firm’s lawyers.
“Polymer80 is a law-abiding company,” he said. “It always was. We were always overboard.”
He added, “It’s a legitimate company that cares about a sector of the market that has nothing to do with a criminal element.”
A legal gray zone
Like all companies that sell ghost gun kits, Polymer80 exists in a legal gray area. Read also : Bar Associations, Advocates Cannot Conduct Any Religious Functions In Chambers Corridors, Parking Or Within Court Premises: Bar Council Of Delhi.
For many modern firearms, only the lower part of the weapon – called the “frame”, the “lower” or the “receiver” – is legally considered a firearm. And under federal law and ATF regulations, it is a firearm only once it has passed a certain point in the manufacturing process.
For years, companies have been selling unfinished metal boxes for AR-15-style rifles, which buyers can complete at home with machining tools. Since they were only 80 percent complete, the unfinished parts were not considered firearms, so they do not require background checks in most states.
One of the earliest on the market was Polymer80. In 2014, Kelley integrated Polymer80 with his late father, Loran L. Kelley Sr., and her business partner, David L. Borges, who retired last year. (Borges sent a request for comment to Polymer80.)
The company was one of the few that started selling AR-15-style lumber made of a plastic material called polymer, along with a jig and brush that made it easier to make general-purpose work guns.
Within a few years, the Polymer80 had expanded to sell unfinished polymer frames for Glock-style handguns, along with the jigs and brushes used to finish them. It also started offering what it called “Buy Build Shoot” kits, which contained all the parts needed to make an unfinished bottom or frame into a work rifle – sometimes in an hour or less.
The company voluntarily sought the ATF’s approval to sell various models of unfinished “slowers” from 2015 to 2017, according to an ATF search warrant Affidavit. Twice, the ATF responded that its designs did not meet the definition of a firearm, and deleted them to be sold without federal restrictions.
But in 2018, the bureau decided to take a determination on whether another low should be considered a firearm, because Polymer80 did not include the additional parts sold with the kits in its application for review, Affidavit points out. This did not exclude Polymer80 from selling the kits.
As the popularity of Polymer80 and other ghost weapons has grown, some state and local attorneys have begun calling for stronger federal regulations. National data on ghost weapons are at best incomplete. ATF estimates that police recovered 10,000 privately made firearms in 2019. The weapons, which come from many manufacturers, have been linked to a growing number of crimes across the country, including mass shootings, police attacks and drug and gang killings.
But during the Trump administration, calls to strengthen federal regulations failed.
However, ATF examines Polymer80. In its application for a search warrant before the December 2020 raid on the Polymer80 headquarters, the ATF wrote that Way Polymer80 marketed and sold its unfinished suppressors with jigs and drill bits, along with the other parts needed to turn them into work weapons. , she did. Firearms under federal law. This triggered a number of legal requirements that Polymer80 did not meet, according to ATF – including adding serial numbers to the bottom and performing background checks on its customers.
Kelley does not agree with the ATF’s claim that the kits of the firearms company are under federal law.
“Polymer80 does not break the law,” he said. “We have in fact never sent unserialized firearms to anyone. That is an accusation made by the ATF based on a premise for an investigation which, of course, we claim is false.
The legal argument over what constitutes a firearm can soon be moot. The Biden administration last year proposed a federal rule that would regulate the sale of homemade gun kits like any other firearm, require buyers to pass background checks and force manufacturers to add serial numbers to parts. The rule is still in place.
Laws and lawsuits
While state and local authorities have been waiting for federal regulation, some steps have been taken to regulate the sale of ghost weapons. On the same subject : Opinions on marijuana are mellowing in Louisiana. Are looser laws on the horizon? | Legislature.
In 2016, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that did not ban ghost gun kits, but required anyone who makes a home-made firearm to have it serialized and pass a background check – to pull the banner of gun lawyers, including the Firearms Policy Coalition.
Eight states have complied with their own laws, according to the Giffords Law Center for the Prevention of Violence, including Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Washington.
Several cities, particularly California, have also taken action. The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance in November banning the possession, sale, or purchase of firearms or large arms parts that do not have serial numbers. The measure followed in the footsteps of similar bans in San Francisco and San Diego in September, which went a step further than the 2016 California law.
California passed an additional claim in 2019 mandating background checks to purchase the large parts used to make ghost weapons, along with the previous serial number claim. The law is due to come into force this year.
Polymer80 pushed back against some restrictions. The company is trying to intervene in a lawsuit against ATF of parents of children who died in a ghost shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, in 2019. .) And the company successfully sued part of a ghost gun ban in his home state of Nevada.
An employee and Mark Barnes & amp; Associates, a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C., in August 2020 for lobbying federal decision-makers on its behalf, according to federal lobbying publications – though Barnes lobbying reports have revealed little current lobbying for Polymer80 to date.
The trial of Apolinar and Perez-Perez, the Los Angeles County deputies who were shot in September 2020 with a Polymer80 ghost gun, is moving through the court system. Her lawyers declined to comment. Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit filed by the city, filed in February 2021, claims that Polymer80’s sales practices “make a mockery of federal and state background check laws.”
In an interview, city attorney Mike Feuer said the city’s goal is to stop the flow of ghost weapons in Los Angeles by blocking Polymer80 from selling its products in California, claiming they are violating existing firearms regulations. (Polymer80 denies violating state law.)
“It’s too late to commit a crime with a ghost gun,” the fire said. “There was a victim at that time. I want to prevent those crimes at all by working to cut off supply.
Like many other big cities, Los Angeles has seen a significant increase in violence in the last two years. The Los Angeles Police Department reported 397 homicides last year, up from 355 in 2020 and 258 in 2019. Shooting has risen from 1,337 in 2020 to 1,499 last year. The Los Angeles Police Department declined to comment, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Some lawyers and experts say that the rise of ghost weapons has made firearms more available, which could lead to more violence. Ben Owens, a Los Angeles violence intervention expert who runs the nonprofit Detours Mentoring Group, said much of his day-to-day work, especially after shootings have already occurred, involves rumor-mongering – keeping accusations flying that could lead to more results. Shooting.
“The availability of weapons definitely increases the retaliation capabilities,” he said.
Nevertheless, the arms industry and Second Amendment advocates say that more regulations on ghost weapons do not necessarily lead to less crime. Lawrence Keane, a senior vice president and general secretary of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry, said California’s 2016 law requires people to register privately made firearms with the state has not stopped the surplus of ghost weapons. He said a better approach would be to provide the police with more resources, prosecute more cases and carry out more rigid sentences.
“Do not dismiss police, have no ‘no bail’ policy, and have no soft-on-crime policy,” he said.
Keane also expressed concern about the pending federal rule regulating tighter weapons, which he said could put a strain on the industry and exceed the ATF’s statutory authority.
“There are a lot of laws in place – you know, background checks, etc. – that support the industry,” he said. “But criminals are still finding ways to get illegal firearms.”