Sophie Sonnenfeld, Contributing Photographer

It was just past 5:30 p.m. when police responded to a domestic violence call on Webster Street last Sunday.

Responding police officers found a man fighting with his girlfriend inside and decided to detain him in handcuffs. The man then tossed his hoodie sweatshirt on the ground, telling his girlfriend to grab the hoodie and run. When police picked up the hoodie, out fell a Polymer80 ghost gun — an untraceable, homemade gun. 

Assistant Chief David Zannelli recounted the incident in a press conference at the New Haven Police Department headquarters Tuesday morning during which city officials provided updates on recent fatal and nonfatal shootings, gun seizures and gun-related arrests. Officials pointed out high numbers of ghost gun seizures similar to the type involved in the domestic violence incident. 

“There’s a lot of hard work being done by the NHPD to pull some of these guns off the street but, again, an almost exponential increase in the number of ghost guns we’re seeing on the street,” Mayor Justin Elicker said at the press conference.  

Elicker noted that gun seizures have increased, with 171 so far this year compared to 134 at this time past year. Of those, 171, 37 were ghost guns. By comparison, just four ghost guns had been seized this time last year.

The Nevada-based gun manufacturer and distributor, Polymer80, which sells “Buy, Build, Shoot” kits, lost a lawsuit in mid-August in which they argued that their products were not “firearms” and thus not subject to federal firearms regulations. Such weapons can be unmarked and untraceable for police investigating crimes to track down suspects. 

In April, the Biden administration announced a federal rule aimed at regulating ghost guns. Following several unsuccessful lawsuits, the law was implemented last week. The new rule requires dealers to conduct background checks for people buying kits and also requires those kits to include traceable serial numbers. Additionally, the rule mandates that federally licensed gunsmiths and dealers must serialize any unmarked ghost guns in their inventory. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported that nationwide law enforcement agencies last year recovered 20,000 suspected ghost guns in criminal investigations. That number, according to ATF, represents a staggering ten-fold jump compared to 2016.

Although ghost gun use has risen in the Elm City, homicides overall have fallen. NHPD reported that so far there have been eight homicides compared to 19 at this point last year.

The most recent of those homicides occurred Monday, when New Havener Michael Judkins was killed in a double shooting on Thompson Street. 

Jacobson reported that at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, police had seized a gun related to possible retaliation for Judkins’ death. 

“There’s a potential since Michael was so beloved in the city for retaliation,” Jacobson said. “I’m asking everybody involved in this to not retaliate. Let us do our jobs. Please tell us what you know. Above all we need the community’s help.” 

Jacobson confirmed that the shooting was targeted, “group-related” violence allegedly erupting over stolen jewelry.  

According to the New Haven Independent, Judkins released songs and launched a career as a rapper going by the name “Young Klean.” 

The family held a vigil to honor Judkins on Wednesday night. 

Sophie Sonnenfeld is Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor and covered cops and courts as a beat reporter. She is a junior in Branford College double majoring in political science and anthropology.