‘Ghost gun’ bill fiercely opposed in committee, could see changes

Posted on 03-18-2021


DOVER — Legislation that would ban untraceable homemade firearms advanced out of a House committee Tuesday despite substantial public opposition.

More than 40 Delawareans listening virtually spoke on House Bill 125, with only five backing it. The Democratic-controlled House Administration Committee voted to send the bill to the full chamber, but members expressed a willingness to make changes in the face of strong pushback from the many who tuned in through Zoom.

The legislation would outlaw “ghost guns,” firearms that lack serial numbers or other identifying markings, making them untraceable by law enforcement and often undetectable by metal detectors. These firearms can be made at home using kits, sold by unlicensed dealers and purchased without a background check. Homemade firearms can serve as an avenue for individuals prohibited from having a gun to obtain a one, though many speakers Tuesday said the bill will really only impact hobbyists and other law-abiding Delawareans who make their own guns.

Under the bill, it would be illegal to possess, manufacture, transport or sell an untraceable firearm, frame or receiver, as well as instructions for making a ghost gun using a 3-D printer. It would also be against the law to own or transfer any firearm or receiver with the knowledge that the manufacturer’s serial number has been removed or altered.

The bill defines an undetectable firearm as one “constructed entirely of non-metal substances, or a firearm that after removal of all of the major components of a firearm, is not detectable by walk-through metal detectors.”

A covert firearm, meanwhile, would be a gun “constructed in a shape or configuration such that it does not resemble a firearm,” while ones “for which the sale or distribution chain from a licensed retailer to the point of its first retail sale cannot be traced by law enforcement officials” would be considered untraceable.

“This bill is an important step to reduce gun violence by keeping unlicensed firearms out of the hands of criminals,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat who is the main sponsor, told the committee. Ghost guns are on the rise, and the legislation is an attempt to get out in front and, hopefully, prevent shootings, she said.

Gov. John Carney is supportive of the effort.

But dozens of individuals protested during the lengthy public comment section Tuesday, arguing that the measure would unfairly punish individuals who simply enjoy firearms and have no intention of using them to commit crimes. Delawarean after Delawarean pushed back on Rep. Longhurst’s claims, describing the bill as unconstitutional and unnecessary.

“You’re turning law-abiding citizens into felons, when they went through a legal process to purchase these weapons in order to fund their hobby,” Mark Harrison said.

Others noted that the measure would not compensate current owners of such firearms, saying that would violate the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which has a clause stating private property cannot “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Guns are not as easy to make at home as claimed, several people said, with one describing a gun made entirely out of plastic by a 3-D printer as essentially useless.

Very few guns produced in this way are used in crimes, speakers told the committee, advocating for letting Delawareans protect themselves. More focus should be placed on individuals charged with illegally possessing guns than on law-abiding residents of the state, they argued.

“This bill is not worth the paper that it’s written on,” Jesse Flynn said.

Several people noted that Rep. Longhurst’s claim that homemade guns without a serial number are illegal under federal law is false. In actuality, only guns that are sold lacking a serial number are against the law — ones that aren’t made commercially do not require such a marking.

The bill would not cover guns manufactured before 1968, nor antique replicas and muzzleloading firearms designed to use black powder. Members of the military and law enforcement would also be exempt.

If the proposal is passed in its current form, individuals who possess an unfinished firearm, frame or receiver with no serial number would have 90 days to comply after the bill becomes law.

Violations would be class D or E felonies. The former carries a prison sentence of up to eight years, while a class E felony has a maximum sentence of five years.

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, eight states, plus Washington, D.C., have enacted laws to at least partially address the problem of undetectable or untraceable guns.