Bill would ban untraceable ‘ghost guns’

DOVER — Lawmakers on Thursday filed a bill that would ban “ghost guns,” homemade firearms considered to be untraceable because they lack key identifying markings.

House Bill 277 would outlaw firearms that have no serial number, are “constructed in a shape or configuration such that it does not resemble a firearm,” are made “entirely of non-metal substances” or are otherwise undetectable by metal detectors.

The measure is intended to counteract 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 weapons.

“Delaware has been at the forefront of gun control legislation, whether it’s closing the gun show and Charleston loopholes, passing red flag laws, or expanding background checks,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat who is the main sponsor, said in a statement.

“Sadly, individuals are constantly looking for loopholes to bypass these laws. The sale and manufacture of these so-called ghost guns is a terrifying way to bypass law enforcement, especially for people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm.”

Individuals who are federally licensed gun dealers and manufacturers and maintain records can possess and transfer unfinished parts if the frame or receiver displays the manufacturer’s name and the serial number.

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.

The restrictions would not apply to members of the military or law enforcement who are authorized to have covert guns.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, a Democrat from New Castle, said in a statement ghost guns are “a clear public safety issue in the making” and it is imperative lawmakers “get ahead of this issue now.”

But others see it differently. Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, a Clayton Republican, thinks most lawmakers will need more information before making a decision on the measure but is skeptical it will do a lot to improve public safety.

“If you’re a law-abiding citizen, and this is the law, that you’re not allowed to make one of these things, you’re not going to make one of these things,” he said. “If you are not a law-abiding citizen, then this law is not going to stop you from making a firearm down in your basement.

“That’s an interesting thought, and it’s one that not just Delaware is struggling with but really globally we’re struggling with this question.”

It is unclear how prevalent these firearms are in Delaware.

Gov. John Carney called for banning ghost guns last January in his State of the State, but the effort became bogged down by several highly controversial and more far-reaching gun control measures. The newest proposal might generate a little more support from Republicans, though any debate on it figures to be fierce.

“If you’re willing to cause mass harm, you’re willing to print one of these things, and so tackling that issue is right back of course to the fundamental point of the debate around gun control, which is: Are criminals going to follow the laws that you create?” Rep. Spiegelman said.

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Washington have laws against ghost guns, while New York has prohibitions on firearms that cannot be picked up by metal detectors or other security screening devices commonly used at airports.

House Bill 277 could be heard in the House Administration Committee as soon as Wednesday, January 22nd.