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Delaware Senate to consider legally changing the state's definition of a firearm

State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R-Clayton) presents his bill to change Delaware's definition of a firearm on Thursday in the House Chamber at Legislative Hall.
Sarah Petrowich
Delaware Public Media
State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R-Clayton) presents his bill to change Delaware's definition of a firearm on Thursday in the House Chamber at Legislative Hall.

State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman’s (R-Clayton) multi-year effort to clarify the definition of a firearm in Delaware passes the state House of Representatives.

Following the recommendations of the Firearm Definition Task Force’s final report, Spiegelman produced a 54-page bill to address discrepancies between what constitutes a firearm in Delaware, aligning the state's definition with the federal definition.

The current firearm definition uses the phrase “by mechanical means” when referring to how a projectile may be released, which Spiegelman has long argued could include slingshots, crossbows and paintball guns, meaning those who commit a crime with a slingshot or a handgun could be charged with the same type of felony.

His bill creates a new category known as “projectile weapons” and changes the definition of a firearm to a weapon from which a projectile is designed or may readily be converted to be discharged by force of an explosive.

“It allows for a much more consistent set of laws when it comes to firearms and projectile weapons throughout the code, and importantly, doesn’t put people in danger of being put in prison for something that the law says they did, but no measure of common sense says they did," Spiegelman said.

During the bill's initial committee hearing in April, the state’s Department of Justice (DOJ) raised concerns that changing the definition could impact case law and statutory interpretations, which resonated with State Rep. Cyndie Romer (D-Newark)

“I am voting no on this bill because I prefer the broad definition supported by DOJ, but I understand the inconsistencies within the federal definition that you are trying to achieve. So I do want to be the first to congratulate you on, momentarily, getting through the legislation to have this changed," Romer said during floor debate on Thursday.

At the April committee hearing, Deputy Attorney General J.S. Taylor worried if the definition were to be changed in Delaware criminal code, it could lead to costly re-litigation of settled cases among other potential troubles.

"Our concern is that there will inevitably be new types of weapons that were covered under the old definition of a firearm, which are not covered under the current definition of projectile weapon, and we'll have to come back every time to the legislature to ask for for an amendment," Taylor said.

Delaware General Assembly Division of Research Director Mark Cutrona disagreed with Taylor, along with some members of the House Judiciary Committee who argued the criminal code is being changed constantly.

Spiegelman also noted 49 other states have already aligned with the federal definition of a firearm.

The bill passed with three no votes from Democratic representatives including State Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark), State Rep. Larry Lambert (D-Calymont) and State Rep. Cyndie Romer (D-Newark).

It now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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