Lawmakers wrestle over definition of ‘gun’

DOVER — Quick, picture a gun. Pretty simple, right?

Now how exactly how would you define it? Make sure your definition accurately covers all firearms and contains no loopholes but doesn’t accidentally include other objects.

Not quite as simple, is it?

That’s the problem in the Delaware Code: An overly broad definition that encompasses far more than what it’s intended to apply to, according to Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, a Clayton Republican.

State law characterizes a firearm as “any weapon from which a shot, projectile or other object may be discharged by force of combustion, explosive, gas and/or mechanical means, whether operable or inoperable, loaded or unloaded,” not counting a BB gun.

“We are the only state in the country that has a definition of firearm that basically says anything that fires anything,” Rep. Spiegelman said. “A slingshot’s a gun. A bow and arrow’s a gun. A Punkin Chunkin cannon’s a gun.”

As you might imagine, that can be problematic. Gun control legislation would technically include the aforementioned devices, Rep. Spiegelman said, meaning a parent who gives a slingshot to his or her child would officially be violating state law.

In practice, such a situation is virtually guaranteed never to occur, thanks to common sense and prosecutorial discretion, but some still see the definition as an issue in need of fixing.

Hunters are unable to use airbows because they are grouped with guns under state law, according to the House Republican caucus.

Rep. Spiegelman is planning legislation that would adopt the federal definition of a gun. Washington classifies as a firearm “(A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon; (C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or (D) any destructive device.” That definition does not include antique firearms.

The bill is already written, but Rep. Spiegelman aims to speak with both supporters and opponents of gun rights before filing it with hopes the two sides will see the change as a “mutually beneficial” measure.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said he is unaware of any specific issues stemming from the current characterization. He did not indicate whether the agency would support a new definition.

Other bills

Expect a fair amount of legislative action over the next two weeks before a brief break.

The General Assembly will recess the week of March 31, during which time two committees will convene to discuss the state operating and capital budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

Legislators will then return for a fortnight before the annual two-week Easter break.

This week, the Senate is set to consider a bill that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. That should take place Tuesday, the same day the House will likely vote on a measure to authorize early voting.

The tobacco legislation, a priority of Gov. John Carney’s, will probably see a House vote soon if it passes the Senate Tuesday.

The House could also consider several other bills expanding voting access in the next few weeks.

Set to be filed this month is a package of bills — 19 in all — reforming the Delaware criminal justice. The measures are extremely ambitious, but some are certain to face opposition from certain quarters, such as Republican lawmakers and law enforcement.

Oh, and be on the lookout for a marijuana bill too. A proposal to make Delaware the 11th state with legal weed is expected to be introduced this month, surely with much fanfare.

An attempt to allow recreational cannabis use failed last year, but supporters believe this time may be different. The exact language of the bill is not yet known.

 

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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