Torres and gun safety advocates announce new federal push to curb ghost guns

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On April 15, Congressman Ritchie Torres announced new federal legislation that would allow individuals and families impacted by ghost guns to file lawsuits against manufacturers.
Photos Jason Cohen

After a ghost gun was used in the recent shooting death of a teen in Mott Haven, a Bronx lawmaker is ready to take action on the federal level.

U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres was joined by Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, advocates for gun safety and cure violence groups, on April 15, when he announced new federal legislation that would allow individuals and families impacted by ghost guns to file lawsuits against manufacturers. This year, the NYPD has already taken 34 ghost guns off the streets of the Bronx.

The legislation comes in response to the recent high-profile shootings in the Bronx, where Angellyh Yambo, 16, was murdered on April 9 by stray bullets, and in Brooklyn, where Frank James allegedly shot up a subway, injuring 23, including 10 who suffered gunshot wounds. The legislation also looks to address the rise in gun violence in New York City and across the U.S.

Though there are existing bills that repeal the Bush-era law that gave gun manufacturers immunity to civil lawsuits, none extend to manufacturers of partially assembled guns or unserialized guns and gun parts, also known as ghost guns.

A privately assembled and untraceable firearm, ghost guns lacks a unique serial number engraved by a licensed manufacturer or licensed importer. In 2021, 20,000 ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations across the United States – a tenfold increase since 2016. Torres’ legislation would remove the civil liability shield on manufacturers that produce any component of a ghost gun, allowing gun violence victims and their families to pursue a private right of action.

Frank James smirks as he’s loaded into a police vehicle at the 9th Precinct in the East Village on April 13. Photo Dean Moses

“The gun violence epidemic is out of control and it’s a crisis that is too glaring to ignore,” Torres said. “Within the past week alone there have been several fatal instances of gun violence throughout New York City, including the death of a 16-year-old girl in the Bronx and several critical injuries in the terrorist attack in Brooklyn. These recent shootings are not isolated cases. We have seen a substantial rise in gun violence throughout New York City and the United States within the last year, and it is past time for federal legislation that addresses the proliferation of untraceable guns throughout the country.”

According to data from the NYPD, there have been 1,207 gun arrests since the start of 2020, and a 16% increase in shooting incidents between March 2021 and 2022.

According to a Everytown for Gun Safety report, the rise of ghost guns is the fastest-growing gun safety problem facing the country. The report found that 68% of online sellers in existence today began selling ghost gun parts after 2014. Sellers provide all the necessary parts for a functional ghost gun and claim key ghost gun parts can be made in as fast as 15 minutes, often at rates below assembled firearms sold at retail.

Life has become a nightmare for Bronx residents and the hope is legislation gets more guns off the streets and helps people safer, Torres said.

“It should not take gun violence and deaths in our communities to pass gun safety legislation that allows victims to hold manufacturers accountable,” Torres said. “I am proud to introduce long-overdue legislation that will allow victims and their families to seek justice in civil court. I hope Congress will act swiftly to pass this important bill.”

Clark, the Bronx district attorney, is growing accustomed to attending vigils and rallies following slain Bronxites falling victim to senseless gun violence. Clark lauded Torres for his legislation and added that children like Yambo should not have to die on their way home from school, she said.

“As we stand on 161st Street, I don’t see any stores where you can buy guns,” Clark said. “We can have laws, but we have to stop the flow of guns coming in.”

Among the gun safety advocates at the press conference was Save Our Streets (S.O.S.), which operates in Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and the Bronx neighborhoods of Mott Haven and Morrisania.

Marisol Rivera, a violence interrupter with S.O.S., stressed that the gun is not their only option. Kids need to know they can do more than commit crimes, she said.

“Don’t let a short-term solution alter your life forever,” Rivera said. “Our babies are dying. We should be upset. We have to do better.”

Marisol Rivera, a violence interrupter with S.O.S., said the nonstop shootings must end.

In October 2021 Gov. Kathy Hochul outlawed ghost guns as well as the making or possession of so-called “toy guns” — real weapons crafted to look like a child’s toy — and signed a bill that criminalizes the possession of unfinished gun frames and receivers by anyone other than a licensed gunsmith.

On April 11, President Joe Biden announce that the U.S. Department of Justice issued a final rule to rein in the proliferation of ghost guns. This final rule bans the business of manufacturing the most accessible ghost guns, such as unserialized “buy build shoot” kits that individuals can buy online or at a store without a background check and can readily assemble into a working firearm in as little as 30 minutes with equipment they have at home. This rule also clarifies that these kits qualify as “firearms” under the Gun Control Act.

The final rule will also help turn some ghost guns already in circulation into serialized firearms. Through this rule, the Justice Department is requiring federally licensed dealers and gunsmiths taking any unserialized firearm into inventory to serialize that weapon.

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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