He sold ‘ghost guns’ out of car trunks. A judge gave him a reduced sentence after this vow

U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announces indictments in a multi-county firearm manufacturing and trafficking case on Thursday, October 15, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announces indictments in a multi-county firearm manufacturing and trafficking case on Thursday, October 15, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. rpench@sacbee.com

The third and final member of a Sacramento gun-dealing ring accused of making AR-15 rifles and selling them out of car trunks in shopping center parking lots – and at least once out of a church office – was sentenced in federal court Tuesday to two years and one month in federal prison.

Sharod Gibbons, 34, was facing up to five years after his guilty plea in July to one count of unlawful manufacturing and dealing in firearms.

Prosecutors had asked for a 37-month sentence, but U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez ordered what he described as a “significant reduction” in Gibbons’ sentence after the defendant vowed that the seven months he already has spent in jail had made him value his family to the point where he will not reoffend.

“The time I’ve been incarcerated has really impacted me in a way that you’ll have no problems from me in the future,” Gibbons told the judge as family members packed half of the 14th floor courtroom in downtown Sacramento.

Gibbons was caught up in a federal crackdown on “ghost guns,” high-powered rifles that are assembled in homes, garages or shops by individuals purchasing the parts online and building them with machine tools.

Building the weapons is legal, and many shooting enthusiasts do so. But the rifles carry no serial numbers or identifying features, and it is a felony to sell or trade them.

Their popularity soared after the December 2012 massacre of 26 people, many of them small children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when some feared the Obama administration might crack down on sales of weapons like the AR-15, the civilian equivalent of the military’s M-16 rifle.

Since then, officials say there has been a booming black market for such weapons, and authorities say the shooter who went on a rampage that killed six people last month in Tehama County used a weapon he built himself after being ordered to turn in his firearms in a separate dispute.

Gibbons was one of three suspects charged in March 2015 with making and selling such weapons, and his two co-defendants were sentenced last year to time served.

Court documents describe a scheme to peddle the weapons from at least May 2013 through March 2014, selling the weapons in shopping center parking lots, near a middle school and once out of the office of an Arden Way church where Gibbons’ uncle was pastor.

The purchasers included an undercover operative who bought dozens of weapons during the investigation, one of several that federal officials say has resulted in the seizure of hundreds of illegal weapons and silencers.

Gibbons attorney John Manning has described his client as “humiliated and deeply remorseful” for his actions, and asked the judge to impose a sentence of time served to allow him to return to his family and receive their support.

He described a difficult childhood for Gibbons, whose mother, once a backup singer for Chaka Khan, died of liver and kidney failure in 2000 from alcoholism at 55. His father committed suicide the same year, court papers say.

He began using drugs after his parents’ death, court papers say, and again in 2010 after shoulder surgery. His criminal history includes arrests for alcohol and drug offenses, theft and evading police, but Gibbons said he had never spent a significant amount of time incarcerated and away from his family as he has now.

Manning noted that the seven months Gibbons has spent in the Sacramento County Main Jail has been “a little bit like aging by dog years,” and that releasing him to the support of his family would allow him to rebuild his life.

Mendez appeared dubious, saying, “But I look out at this family and wonder, why didn’t it work out before?”

The judge added that Gibbons has a “significant criminal history” and that his latest offense was not minor.

“This was a serious offense, a significant amount of illegal weapons and a danger to the public,” the judge said before sentencing him to 25 months and noting that he could have faced more time.

“I hope you’ll take advantage of that,” Mendez said, “and that, as you say, I’ll never see you again.”

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam