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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate Sends Bills Banning ‘Ghost Guns’, Protecting Victims Of Domestic Violence To Governor Carney

June 15, 2021

DOVER – The State Senate on Tuesday sent two bills to Governor John Carney that would help protect Delawareans from gun violence by keeping firearms out of the hands of those who should not possess them.

House Bill 125 would add Delaware to a growing list of states criminalizing the possession, sale and manufacture of “ghost guns,” while House Bill 124 would help protect the victims of domestic abuse from gun violence.

“More than ever before, Delawareans are demanding gun safety and Delaware Democrats are delivering on meaningful legislation that seeks to address this uniquely American epidemic,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, a co-sponsor of both bills. “These bills, along with Senate Bills that ban high-capacity magazines and require permits and training for handgun owners, represent a package of critical steps forward.”

Passed by the House in May, House Bill 125 would criminalize the possession, sale and manufacturing of “ghost guns,” a term that refers to firearms with no serial numbers or other identifying marks, making them untraceable by law enforcement and often undetectable by metal detectors.

Ghost guns currently can be made at home using kits or 3D printers, can be sold by unlicensed dealers, and can be purchased without a background check — a loophole that enables people prohibited from possessing a firearm to circumvent laws in place to keep them from acquiring guns.

Under federal law, only the receiver – which houses the firing mechanism – is considered a firearm and 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 background check and can be made fully functional with minimal effort. 

“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 Senate prime sponsor of HB 125.  “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. “Untraceable, undetectable guns present obvious public safety dangers, and I’m glad the General Assembly is taking proactive steps to outlaw them early in their evolution.”

Under House Bill 125, 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; or transport, ship, possess or receive any firearm or receiver with the knowledge that the manufacturer’s serial number has been removed, obliterated or altered.

“We’ve seen a growing number of ghost guns used in gun crimes, and these untraceable weapons make it even harder for law enforcement to investigate gun crimes,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said. “The only people who benefit from a gun without a serial number are criminals skirting existing background check laws.  I’m grateful to Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Poore for tackling this rising threat.”

According to Giffords Law Center, eight states and 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.

“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.” 

The Senate on Tuesday also passed House Bill 124, which would prohibit someone from purchasing a firearm if they know they are the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant or an active indictment related to a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Delaware law currently bars the subject of a protection-from-abuse order from purchasing a firearm. Passed by the House in May, HB 124 would close a loophole that exists for the subjects who were not present when the PFA was ordered by a judge, even if they know the PFA exists.

“Domestic abuse is far more likely to turn deadly if firearms are present in the home,” said Sen. Laura Sturgeon, the lead Senate sponsor of HB 124. “Preventing people with active protection from abuse orders from acquiring firearms is one of the surest ways we can protect the lives of their victims and stop further acts of violence from being committed with potentially deadly consequences.” 

During the past five years, 29 of 41 domestic violence-related fatalities – more than 70% – in Delaware involved firearms.

“Separating from an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. Studies show that more than half of women killed by an intimate partner are killed with a firearm,” said Rep. Krista Griffith, D-Fairfax, the prime sponsor of HB 124. “This bill will close a loophole in the system to protect victims of domestic violence and stop further acts of violence from being committed by a firearm. I’m grateful that we’ve taken this critical step that quite simply will save lives.”

“Our laws already recognize the serious danger that lives in the intersection between guns and domestic violence,” Attorney General Jennings said. “That danger is no less real while the abuser is awaiting a final protection from abuse order or trial. We’ve seen far too many examples of how easily domestic violence can become deadly, and the reality is that these horrific tragedies are often preventable. This legislation closes a fatal loophole. Rep. Griffith and Sen. Sturgeon deserve real credit for standing up for victims of abuse.”