Longhurst Bill Would Tackle Issue of ‘Ghost Guns’

DOVER – With the advancements in 3D printing and the availability of firearm components, lawmakers filed a bill Thursday criminalizing the possession or manufacturing of “ghost guns.”

Ghost guns are generally described as homemade weapons that do not have serial numbers or other identifying markings that enable them to be tracked to their maker, seller, or original owner. Individuals – sometimes people prohibited from possessing firearms – can sidestep background check laws and purchase or manufacture components and assemble their own firearms.

Under federal law, only the receiver – which houses the firing mechanism – is considered a firearm and is subject to a background check. The other components, such as the barrel, can be bought and sold without a criminal check. However, retailers have exploited a loophole by selling “unfinished” receivers – which don’t require a check – that can be made fully functioning with minimal effort.

Under House Bill 277, sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, it would be illegal to:

  • Possess or manufacture a covert, undetectable or untraceable firearm.
  • Transport, ship, transfer, or sell an unfinished firearm frame or receiver.
  • Manufacture or distribute a firearm made using a 3D printer.
  • Distribute instructions that would allow a 3D printer to manufacture a firearm, firearm frame or receiver, magazine or major component of a firearm.
  • Transport, ship, possess or receive any firearm or firearm frame or receiver with the knowledge that the manufacturer’s serial number has been removed, obliterated or altered.

“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,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “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.

“By taking this comprehensive approach with HB 277, we hope to close the door on these undetectable, untraceable firearms and improve public safety for all Delaware residents.”

“We’ve passed important gun safety legislation over the past several years to help keep our communities safe, but we have more work to do,” said Governor John Carney. “This important ghost gun legislation is thoughtful and reasonable and is intended to keep our communities safe – the minimum standard our constituents expect us to meet. Thank you to House Majority Leader Longhurst for your leadership on this issue. I look forward to working with lawmakers in both parties to make our state safer.”

According to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, four states (California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Washington) have enacted laws to address the problem of undetectable and untraceable guns. New York has enacted a law to address undetectable firearms.

“This is a clear public safety issue in the making,” said Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “Ghost guns skirt existing laws and are designed to avoid detection. They can be acquired without a background check, include no serial numbers and they can be made from parts undetectable by metal detectors. This is a rapidly evolving technology and it is incumbent on us to get ahead of this issue now.”

According to HB 277, a covert firearm would be defined as any firearm constructed or configured in a way that it doesn’t resemble a firearm or disguises or obscures the shape of the weapon. An undetectable firearm would be defined as a firearm constructed entirely of nonmetal substances, so it doesn’t set off walk-through metal detectors. An untraceable firearm would be defined as an unlawfully manufactured firearm for which the sale or distribution chain cannot be traced by law enforcement officials.

Criminal charges for violating parts of this proposed statute vary between Class D and Class E felonies.

HB 277 has been assigned to the House Administration Committee.