SB 808: Calif. Senator Kevin de Leόn’s “ghost law” that ignores the real problem

Senator Kevin de Leόn (D-Los Angeles), seizing on a new opportunity to spin rhetoric, has authored a bill in SB 808 that purports to solve the problem of so-called “ghost guns,” but that really just creates new problems.

According to the author, “Senate Bill 808 requires self-made or assembled guns to contain permanent pieces of metal and to be registered with the Department of Justice through a serial number and gun owner background check.” As is typical for gun laws that come out of Sacramento, however, the realities of the bill are quite different.

SB 808 would codify a serious new complication for law enforcement officers who will have no way to determine if someone’s firearm is a legally-possessed pre-SB 808 non-serialized firearm or an illegal post-SB 808 firearm. Good cops will make inadvertent, but improper, arrests under SB 808’s new rules, setting them and their departments up for expensive civil rights lawsuits – wasting time and resources that should be used to fight crime.

The Senator’s use of made-up terms like “30 magazine clip” and “ghost guns,” among others, confuses the public as to the actual policy issue: the state’s long history of failure to go after armed criminals and prosecute real crimes.


Senator de Leόn points to the Santa Monica shooting in 2013 as justification for his bill. But what would SB 808 do, if enacted, to prevent such tragedies? Absolutely nothing. How would killers like John Zawahri be thwarted under SB 808? They won’t be. Let’s not forget that DOJ denied Zawahri – a known prohibited person – the purchase of a firearm and subsequently failed to follow up. Violent criminals don’t wait for permission from the Department of Justice before they commit their heinous crimes and DOJ fails to adequately enforce our existing laws.

Attorney General Kamala Harris knows that more than 20,000 “armed and prohibited” people in California are going about their daily lives without a worry because they run the near-zero risk of a serious law enforcement crackdown. How many of those 20,000 prohibited persons will be disarmed this year? Based on statements made in a recent Joint Legislative Hearing on the DOJ’s “APPS” disarmament program, only a small fraction.

Harris also knows that the state has a massive failure on its hands in what could be one of the country’s most important public safety IT departments. Nearly three years ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that Travis LeBlanc, “a special assistant attorney general who oversees technology operations in the state Department of Justice,” said that “California has a shoddy system for collecting case results from 58 county courts and hundreds of local prosecutors and police agencies.” (FN1.) What has the state done to seriously address those massive and deadly deficiencies? The answer is: it hasn’t.

DOJ is responsible for thousands of firearm transfer denials every year. According to the Department statistics, they rejected 7,524 transactions in 2012 alone and over 50,000 in the past decade.(FN2.) Those large numbers beg an important question: What is DOJ, the state’s chief law enforcement agency, doing about it? Sadly, the predictable answer is, again, nothing.

Senator Roderick Wright thinks that DOJ, in particular, should be doing more to combat the real problem of armed violent criminals. “Something in the milk ain’t white, but it’s not being pursued,” Wright said at a 2013 legislative hearing on gun control. (FN3.) It’s hard to disagree with him.


When faced with a blatant logical disconnect between the stated intent of a bill and its actual effects, we must scrutinize the measure with an eye towards real and likely outcomes. SB 808 will slate more law-abiding Californians for unknowing violation of a massive new law without a single drop of public outreach funding, while evil actors, like Zawahri, remain free to do harm as the state and DOJ continue to play ostrich.

In spite of the fact that some lawmakers refuse to accept the realities of our human condition, not all of life’s problems can be solved with new fees, expanded bureaucracies, and increased penalties.

Californians should take no solace in the fact that SB 808 will not keep guns out of the hands of prohibited criminals, nor should they feel safe knowing that elected representatives like Senator de Leόn choose to play politics with irrational and irresponsible bills like SB 808 rather than take on the issues that matter.

If Senator de Leόn really wanted to address gun violence, he would start with the real problem: the state’s utter and total failure to do its job.

FN1: See
FN2: See
FN3: See at 1:58:00. See also

Brandon Combs is president of the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees (CAL-FFL). CAL-FFL’s members include thousands of law-abiding firearm owners, trainers, and retailers, advocating for Second Amendment and related rights through legislative, judicial, and educational efforts.