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Ghost gun bill passes house without Republican support

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

A bill banning ghost guns cleared the state House last week.


But it didn’t pass with the bipartisan support the bill’s sponsor hoped for.


State Rep. Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) brought back her ghost gun legislation after COVID-19 stalled it last year.


The bill criminalizes owning a firearm without a serial number. Most of those kinds of guns are ones made with a 3D printer, and can be invisible to metal detectors.


Longhurst previously worked with the NRA in an effort to garner bipartisan support for the measure, saying law-abiding citizens shouldn’t have to worry about the bill.


But ultimately Republican lawmakers opposed it. State Rep. Stephen Smyk (R-Milton) says the bill won’t be effective.


“We’re not gonna prevent any crimes with this, this is not something that’s been a problem to address,” Smyk said. “For the future of 3D printing, I understand but not all that is being addressed by this bill.”


Smyk's argument is similar to ones offered in debates over other gun bills lawmakers are considering, one of which would require a permit to purchase a handgun.


Republican lawmakers say criminals will simply ignore the law, and obtain their weapons illegally, while lawful gun-owners will be the ones punished.


Republican State Rep. Timothy Dukes (R-Laurel) says the bill would hurt lawful gun owners, including his son.


“He has built three guns that would be considered under this bill a ghost gun. He enjoys going out to the back of his property and target shoot,” Dukes said. “With the passage of this bill and the signature of the governor, my son would now become a felon.”


Duke’s son and other hobbyists would have 90 days to destroy or turn in any guns without serial numbers. Republican lawmakers say those are the only people who will obey, and criminals will continue to use the ghost guns.


The original version included an exemption for police and military personnel, but Longhurst removed that carve-out in an amendment passed unanimously.


Similar exemptions have been included in other gun bills the legislature is considering, including one banning magazines capable of carrying more than 17 rounds.


House Minority leader Daniel Short (R-Seaford) tried to introduce an amendment giving gun owners with homemade guns time to get a serial number from a gun store, but Longhurst opposed the amendment, saying the process wasn't fleshed out, and the amendment failed.


The bill passed 23-18 with three Democrats in opposition: Andria Bennet (D-East Dover), who represents the Dover Air Force Base, Bill Carson (D-Smyrna), veteran of the Air National Guard and an NRA member and Bill Bush (D-Clayton), who has previously been a policy advisor for the Delaware Department of Homeland Security and has closely worked with Delaware police.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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