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.
What to Know About ‘Ghost Guns’
How hard are they to assemble? The sales pitches often promise little work for the buyer. The kits usually come with directions on how to finish the gun or link to YouTube tutorials. Typically, the only tool needed is a drill.
Why are they an issue now? Kits to assemble guns have been sold since the 1990s, but ghost guns have become increasingly easy to access for those legally barred from buying or owning guns.
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.