Longhurst Bill Would Tackle Issue of ‘Ghost Guns’

DOVER – After sales of untraceable firearm components skyrocketed in 2020, lawmakers re-introduced legislation Thursday criminalizing the possession or manufacturing of “ghost guns.”

Ghost guns are firearms with no 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. This enables individuals – even those who are prohibited from possessing a firearm – to circumvent background check laws. 

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, also known as “80%  receivers” – which don’t require a check. These receivers can be made fully functional with minimal effort. 

Under House Bill 125, 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, receiver, or major component of a firearm.
  • Transport, ship, possess or receive any firearm or receiver with the knowledge that the manufacturer’s serial number has been removed, obliterated or altered.

“From closing the gun show and Charleston loopholes, to passing red flag laws, to expanding background checks, Delaware has been at the forefront of gun safety legislation,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “Troublingly, individuals are constantly looking for loopholes to circumvent these laws. Ghost guns, which can be easily obtained online and built at home, are a terrifying way to bypass law enforcement, especially for people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm.

“By passing this comprehensive and common-sense bill, we’re taking an important step toward protecting Delawareans from gun violence by keeping unlicensed firearms out of the hands of criminals.”

According to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, eight states, including neighboring New Jersey, as well as the District of Columbia have enacted laws to at least partially address the problem of undetectable or untraceable guns. Further restrictions have also been implemented at the local level.

“Over the past several years, we’ve passed important gun safety legislation 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. That’s 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 HB 125, “undetectable firearm” would be defined as a firearm constructed entirely of non-metal substances or has its major components (such as the slide, barrel, cylinder, trigger group or receiver) removed, so it is not detectable by walk-through metal detectors. It also would apply to firearms that include those major components but would not generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the component.

A “covert firearm” would be defined as any firearm that is constructed in a shape not resembling a firearm. An “untraceable firearm” would be defined as a firearm for which the sale or distribution chain cannot be traced by law enforcement officials. This would exclude older firearms, antique replicas and muzzle-loading firearms designed to use black powder.

“Ghost guns are specifically designed to avoid detection and skirt existing law, making them a clear threat to public safety,” said Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, the bill’s prime sponsor in the Senate.  “Delaware needs to get ahead of this rapidly evolving technology now and close this loophole once and for all. These homemade weapons can be just as deadly as other types of firearms and are potentially easier to obtain for people legally barred from owning a gun.”

Criminal charges for violating parts of this proposed statute vary between Class D and Class E felonies. Individuals who possess an unfinished firearm frame or receiver with no serial number would have 90 days to comply after the bill’s enactment into law.

HB 125 has been assigned to the House Administration Committee.