A Burbank man and owner of a downtown Los Angeles hookah lounge pleaded guilty Wednesday to illegally selling firearms — including several ghost guns — and possession with intent to sell drugs.
Hovik Dagesian, 41, entered his plea to federal counts of engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license and possession with intent to distribute at least 50 grams of methamphetamine, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The ghost guns are often made and assembled with plastic 3D printed parts, as was the case with Dagesian’s cache. They can also be sold unassembled as ghost gun kits, and the illegal firearms do not have serial numbers and are designed to avoid necessary firearms regulations.
With these guns, someone interested in purchasing a firearm to commit a crime could do so without a background check, and the gun would be untraceable.
Dagesian illegally sold 11 firearms, including an AR-15-style short-barreled rifle with no serial number, on four occasions between October 2020 and January 2021. In total, Dagesian sold $34,250 worth of firearms and methamphetamine to a single buyer.
Dagesian does not have a federal firearms license and does not have any firearms registered to him, according to court papers, which further state that he sold other AR-15-style ghost guns — firearms that are made from component parts and do not have serial numbers — as well as a semiautomatic shotgun, a Tec-DC9 pistol and a vintage Tommy gun.
Each of the illegal firearms sales occurred at Dagesian’s place of business, DTLA Hookah Lounge.
During the execution of a search warrant, law enforcement personnel seized more than a dozen firearms from his business, according to documents filed in Los Angeles federal court. U.S. District Judge Mark C. Scarsi scheduled a Jan. 8 sentencing hearing, at which time Dagesian will face a sentence of between 10 years and life in federal prison, prosecutors said.
GETTING THE LEAD OUT
There have been more than 37,000 ghost guns recovered nationally since 2017, according to the Federation of American Scientists, with a 1083% increase in recoveries from 2017-2021.
To make problems worse, that number could be higher, as experts say that law enforcement agencies are not yet equipped to properly deal with ghost guns.
“The recovery of these firearms is likely underreported, with many law enforcement agencies not having the reporting tools or training required to recognize and trace unserialized weapons,” wrote Michelle Perry, lead evaluator for crime solutions with the California Department of Justice.
According to data sourced from the U.S. Department of Justice, suspected ghost guns nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021.
Last year, the Biden administration introduced new laws that will help turn some ghost guns already in circulation into serialized firearms.
At the state level, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 1327, a major gun reform bill jointly authored by state Sens. Bob Hertzberg and Anthony Portantino, who represents Burbank.
SB 1327 allows private citizens to sue a person who manufactures, distributes, transports, imports, or sells assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, ghost guns, or ghost gun kits in California. It allows citizens to sue for $10,000 for each weapon involved, as well as attorney fees. Newsom is the official sponsor of the legislation, which takes its framework from an unlikely source: The controversial Texas anti-abortion bill declared to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The continued need to adopt sensible solutions to our nation’s tragic history of gun violence is dire and necessary,” said Portantino.
“That includes SB 1327 — which I am proud to jointly author with Sen. Hertzberg. I am grateful to Gov. Newsom for his partnership on this important bill that will keep our communities safe and improve public safety for all Californians. If Texas can outrageously use this type of law to attack a woman’s reproductive freedom, we can do the same thing in California to hold gun dealers accountable for their actions,” Portantino said in a statement.
Recently in Burbank, another ghost gun manufacturer was arrested after police discovered a large cache of nearly two dozen illegal firearms and excess parts that he had printed himself.
Lawmakers hope that new regulations will stymie the meteoric increase in ghost gun inventory throughout the country.
— City News Service contributed to this report.
First published in the September 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.