Lawmakers Seek To Regulate ‘Ghost Guns’ As Usage Balloons

Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Sen. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery) presented legislation Wednesday seeking to regulate the ability to purchase or manufacture untraceable, or “ghost,” guns.

“Untraceable firearms are not just guns with serial numbers crossed off,” said Lee, “they also include guns that have been designed to get around state laws and the federal definition of ‘firearm.’”

Lee, an advocate for greater gun control, said the measure will further tighten Maryland’s laws for gun ownership after the override of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto on a bill to regulate long guns.

“After the veto override of SB208 and HB4 from 2020, we can’t let one loophole filled while another one metastasizes,” she said.

Under the bill, gun owners or manufacturers would be prohibited from selling, lending or leasing untraceable or unfinished guns unless the buyer can produce a valid handgun qualification license issued by the state police.

Additionally, after Jan. 1, 2022, ownership of an untraceable firearm or unfinished frame would be prohibited unless they are stamped or engraved with a serial number and:

  • The model of the gun;
  • Its caliber or gauge;
  • The full legal name of its owner;
  • The full legal name and city of the manufacturer if it was made in the state of Maryland; or
  • The full legal name and city of the entity that imported it into the state and the city and state or country that it was manufactured in.

These alterations would have to be made by a federally licensed gun manufacturer or importer before they could be sold, transferred or imported into the state. Licensed dealers and manufacturers would be required to keep a record of all sales or transfers.

Under the legislation, people who made or lawfully owned guns or unfinished frames prior to 2022 would be able to keep them if they have them appropriately marked.

Should the law be enacted, first-time offenders would be guilty of a civil offense and fined up to $2,500. Second offenses would be considered misdemeanor crimes punishable by a $5,000 fine or two years in prison.

People who are unqualified to own or manufacture guns would also be subject to a $5,000 fine or two years in prison.

Owners of antique guns, guns made before 1968 or guns and unfinished frames with serial numbers in accordance with federal law are exempted.

Lee said that “drilling a few holes into an unfinished lower receiver” with a do-it-yourself gun kit makes someone a gun manufacturer as much as buying a Blue Apron meal kit makes them a chef.

“This isn’t even Blue Apron,” she said. “This is a TV microwavable dinner that looks, sounds,  even tastes like a meal ― just like an unfinished frame or receiver looks, sounds, even kills like a gun in the time it takes to prepare a meal.”

“These are not homemade guns in the traditional sense,” Lee told the committee. “We cannot allow the exception to swallow the rule.”

Lee said ghost guns are appealing because they don’t require a background check.

Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery), the bill’s House cosponsor, confirmed this at a news conference last month when she described buying an unfinished receiver for an AR-15 online with only her credit card and shipping address.

“It didn’t need to know my real name, it didn’t need to know my age, any type of criminal history, and with, you know, probably like a good hour and a half, two hours of equipment, I could have a very powerful firearm,” she said.

Lopez will present the bill to the House Judiciary Committee on March 1.

‘It’s premature’

According to a 2020 Fox45 report, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reported that 117 ghost guns were recovered in the state of Maryland in 2019.

“Nearly a quarter of those in the city of Baltimore,” said Sam Levy, counsel for Everytown Against Gun Violence.

Lt. Col. John Herzog told committee members that the Baltimore Police Department recovered 29 ghost guns in 2019. That ballooned to 126 in 2020.

Twenty-nine of those were recovered from people under 21. The youngest carrier was only 14-years-old.

Mark Pennak of Maryland Shall Issue appeared in opposition to the bill, arguing that building these guns to sell is already a federal felony, as is possession by a disqualified person. Both offenses are subject to 10 years in prison.

“I’m willing to bet that every single one of the guns that were recovered in Baltimore and elsewhere that were ghost guns are already illegal guns, and the possessors of them already prohibited persons who are already subject to federal felonies,” Pennak said.

“You hardly need to penalize them further if you use what you have already,” he said.

Asked about the reported numbers of ghost guns reportedly seized by jurisdiction, John Josselyn of 2A Maryland said that a few law enforcement agencies across the state had responded to his Public Information Act requests from 2019 and 2020: Howard County nabbed 20 over a three-year period, and Anne Arundel had found none.

“It’s interesting to note that the responses I received in 2019 from the Baltimore City Police Department denied any knowledge or records of ghost guns,” he said.

Josselyn hasn’t received a response to 2020 request to the Baltimore Police Department.

“We really don’t have solid information, and I think it’s premature to elevate this issue to a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately,” he said.

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