L.A. officials urge credit card firms to halt ‘ghost gun’ payments

Authorities in the Los Angeles area are urging three major credit card companies to stop processing online payments for kits used to assemble untraceable “ghost guns.”

L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, LAPD Chief Michel Moore and San Gabriel Police Chief Gene Harris sent letters to the chief executives of Visa, MasterCard and American Express urging them to take quick action to stop payments, according to an announcement Tuesday.

The companies “have the ability to go beyond what any law enforcement agency, legislature or city council can accomplish,” Gascón said in a statement. “We are asking these companies to join us in stemming the flow of ghost guns into our communities by preventing a ghost gun kit from being sold with a few mere clicks on a smartphone or computer.”

The guns are typically made from polymer parts created with 3-D printers, and they are untraceable because they aren’t registered and lack serial numbers. They can be assembled at home and are often inexpensive, with kits selling online for about $350 to $500, according to the district attorney’s office.

“The weapons are purchased with no valid background checks, often merely requiring the buyer to self-certify,” the district attorney’s announcement said. “This means that someone who is legally disqualified by virtue of a felony, domestic violence conviction, mental illness or being underage can easily purchase a ghost gun kit by making a false and untested certification.”

In their letters to credit card executives, Gascón, Moore and Harris wrote that the number of ghost guns seized by Los Angeles police officers alone has increased by about 400% since 2017.

That trend is accelerating, they wrote.

“The proliferation of ghost guns has corresponded with a sharp rise in violent crime,” according to the letters.

Gascón, Moore and Harris said legal action by law enforcement and legislation banning ghost guns haven’t been effective.

“Many of the major ghost gun suppliers have been the subject of civil law enforcement actions filed by prosecutors with little impact on the production and supply of ghost gun components,” they wrote.

Industry lawyers have tangled up the lawsuits in court, claiming that ghost gun kits sold online aren’t complete enough to meet the legal definition of a firearm and aren’t subject to laws requiring background checks and serial numbers, according to the letters.

Gascón, Moore and Harris pointed to a 2015 decision by the three credit card companies to stop payment processing for Backpage.com. The company had long faced accusations that it was being used to traffic underage victims. It was eventually shut down after being linked to human trafficking.

A similar move by credit card companies could now help curb the flow of deadly weapons into the community, they wrote.

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