- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2020

DOVER, Del. (AP) - A proposal by Democratic lawmakers in Delaware to outlaw homemade “ghost guns,” which can’t be traced by law enforcement agents because they don’t have serial numbers or are fashioned from parts created with 3-D printers, has cleared its first legislative hurdle.

A Democrat-led House committee voted to release the bill Wednesday after an hourlong public hearing, although its chief sponsor, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, said she plans to amend the bill after meeting Tuesday with representatives of the National Rifle Association.

Longhurst said her amendments would include a phase-in date by which owners of existing guns would have to obtain serial numbers for their weapons, exempting muzzle loaders and replicas of antique firearms, and allowing licensed firearms dealers to legally handle gun parts that do not have serial numbers.

“The issue of a weapon that could not be detected by metal detectors has existed for years, but not ghost guns,” said Longhurst, D-Bear.

The bill makes it a felony to possess or manufacture an “untraceable” firearm.

It also criminalizes “covert firearms” designed to not resemble a firearm, as well as “undetectable” firearms made of nonmetal substances so as not to set off metal detectors.

Possession of an unfinished firearm frame or receiver without a serial number would also be a felony.

“Ghost guns” is a term used to describe homemade weapons constructed from component parts that do not have serial numbers or other identifying markings that can enable authorities to identify their manufacture, sale, or original owner.

Under federal law, only the receiver, a component of a gun which houses the firing mechanism, is considered a firearm. But the law allows individuals to bypass criminal background checks required for firearm purchases by buying “unfinished” receivers, which do not have serial numbers and can be made fully functional with additional machine or tool work.

Gun opponents criticized the bill as “feel-good” legislation that targets law-abiding citizens and will do nothing to protect the public from criminals who already are prohibited from having guns - with or without serial numbers.

“How many crimes have been committed in this state with ghost guns? I haven’t seen a report on that,” said Terry Baker, a bill opponent. “Go after the criminals within this state, and leave the law-abiding alone.”

Bill supporters urged lawmakers to outlaw ghost guns now rather than waiting to act after a homemade gun is used in a shooting.

“This is commonsense legislation that should be passed by both houses and to be put into law,” said Dennis Greenhouse, a leader of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence. “Delaware should be proactive before a tragedy happens.”

Jeff Hague, a lobbyist for the NRA and the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, welcomed Longhurst’s planned amendments but said he was disappointed in the approach lawmakers are taking.

“We’re not concentrating on the person. We’re looking at an object,” said Hague, who also noted that ghost guns are already addressed by federal law.

“We’re going to solve the problem of gun violence by looking at the person,” he added. “The object is not the problem. It’s the person behind the object.”

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