‘Ghost Guns’: Firearm Kits Bought Online Fuel Epidemic of Violence

Mr. Ely was among the victims of a flash of carnage that began, investigators say, when a man named Travis Sarreshteh, 32, walked up to a hotel parking attendant, Justice Boldin, and, without warning, shot him with a Polymer80 pistol. Mr. Boldin, 28, a former college baseball player, died almost instantly.

Then Mr. Sarreshteh, who pleaded not guilty after being charged with murder, brushed shoulders with a group of friends from New Jersey. He wheeled and fired, slightly wounding two of the men, the police say. A third man, Vincent Gazzani, was injured in the arm, lung, spleen and stomach. Mr. Ely was probably hit by that volley.

“I was sure I was going to die — I couldn’t catch my breath,” said Mr. Gazzani, who was saved by a former Israeli Army medic who applied a field dressing from a napkin, assuring him he was “going to make it” as he waited for paramedics to arrive.

The police are still not sure how Mr. Sarreshteh may have gotten the weapon, a recurring theme in almost all ghost gun investigations. But obtaining a ghost gun, they say, allowed him to dodge a background check that would have revealed a significant criminal history, including a 2017 illegal weapons charge.

The shooting brought barely a ripple nationally. But it galvanized officials in San Diego.

“How could somebody who was barred from lawfully purchasing a firearm get a 9-millimeter gun and shoot five people in the middle of the street?” said Marni von Wilpert, a San Diego city councilwoman who pushed through a law banning guns without serial numbers, part of a wave of local legislation addressing the crisis.

Community leaders in some of the state’s violence-plagued urban neighborhoods have been sounding the alarm for the last couple of years, as teenagers snap up homemade guns for protection, or as emblems of toughness.

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