Legislative notebook: No vote on banning untraceable firearms Thursday

DOVER — Legislation that would ban untraceable homemade firearms known as “ghost guns” did not receive a vote Thursday despite appearing on the House agenda.

House Bill 277 would prohibit any gun that has no serial number, is “constructed in a shape or configuration such that it does not resemble a firearm,” is made “entirely of non-metal substances” or is otherwise undetectable by metal detectors.

The measure is meant to counter the rise of 3D-printed firearms, which authorities say are dangerous because they can be built at home and made to be almost impossible to track, giving individuals prohibited from having guns another avenue to obtain deadly weapons.

Under the measure, federally licensed gun dealers and manufacturers would be able to possess and transfer unfinished parts if the frame or receiver displays the manufacturer’s name and the serial number. The restrictions also would not apply to members of the military or law enforcement who are authorized to have covert guns.

The main sponsor said she withheld a vote on the bill to have more time to work on an amendment enabling individuals with guns lacking serial numbers to get them added.

“You just want to get it right,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, told reporters after the House finished business. “It’s an important piece of legislation. It will pass. We just want to make it sure we get it right.”

She aims to have the amendment finished by the time lawmakers return from the annual February break on March 17.

While it’s unclear how often ghost guns are used in crimes — the Department of Justice is unaware how prevalent the firearms are — Rep. Longhurst said she knew of four or five instances in Delaware. She said she could not offer details on them due to police investigations, however.

Dozens of people turned up for a committee hearing on the measure last week, with irate opponents slightly outnumbering supporters.

Under the bill, possessing an unfinished firearm would be a Class D felony, which carries with it a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. Making a covert or untraceable gun would also be a Class D offense, while simply having such a weapon would fall under a Class E felony. The highest allowable sentence for a Class E crime is five years in jail.

Gov. John Carney considers the bill a “no-brainer” that can improve public safety, while the Delaware State Police and Department of Justice also endorse the proposal.

But gun rights advocates see it, like basically all measures dealing with gun restrictions, as an unconstitutional attack on basic freedoms.

“Go after the criminals within this state and leave the law-abiding alone,” Terry Baker told lawmakers in the House Administration Committee hearing on the proposal last week. “You just don’t seem to understand that. This is a feel-good bill.”

Woof!

The Senate passed a bill that allows restaurants and similar establishments to permit dogs on patios or other outdoor seating areas as long as they are leashed.

The measure sailed through the House with no votes against two weeks ago. Thursday, it passed the Senate 19-1, with Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, voting against it and Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, absent. It now goes to Gov. Carney.

The issue arose over the summer after the Division of Public Health began enforcing a long-standing but generally ignored prohibition on pets in eating establishments. After an outcry, the division proposed changes to the state’s food code, although the bill’s passage makes the portion relating to dogs mostly irrelevant.

The legislation still lets restaurant owners choose not to allow dogs on their property if they wish.

One of the bill’s main sponsors had a special guest in the Senate chamber Thursday: his 95-pound pup, Teddy.

“As the proud owner of a Yellow Labrador who follows me everywhere, I share the frustration felt by dog owners and the restaurateurs who cater to them,” Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, said in a statement. “This legislation will return us to the circumstances we have enjoyed for years by allowing business owners to decide for themselves whether to welcome pets to their outdoor seating areas.”

Period products

The House, meanwhile, approved legislation to provide free feminine hygiene products to students.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would mandate all public schools with students in any of the grades from six through 12 provide free tampons and sanitary napkins in at least half the girl’s bathrooms. More than 37,000 girls are in those grades in Delaware, per the Department of Education.

“It’s about making sure that people have these needs, choices and resources to take care of their menstrual health,” Rep. Longhurst said. “Finally, it’s about the stigma around periods.”

The costs would be borne by school districts, but the estimated annual total is just $77,000 for all schools combined.
The proposal was approved 33-6, with two representatives absent. All opposition came from Republicans.

Rep. Ruth Briggs King, the only person other than Rep. Longhurst to speak on the bill, argued the state should focus on more worthwhile needs. Most students can afford feminine hygiene products, she said.

“A district like mine that can’t pass a referendum, that is desperately challenged” could use financial assistance, Rep. Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said in reference to Indian River School District. The district saw two referendums fail last year and has another scheduled for next month.