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Maryland leaders advocate for legislation banning ghost guns

A new bill proposed in Maryland would ban the sale or transfer of unserialized firearms as of June 1, and make possession illegal by 2023.

MARYLAND, USA — Several Maryland politicians held a joint news conference Thursday to advocate for the passage of legislation that would ban homemade weapons, known as "ghost guns." The guns, assembled from parts purchased online, are untraceable due to the lack of serial numbers. 

The draft legislation, which has not yet been assigned a bill number, would redefine firearms to include the unfinished frame or receiver of any weapon that "expels, is designed to expel, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive." 

It would also ban the sale or transfer of unserialized firearms as of June 1, 2022. Anyone who already owns a privately made firearm would have until Jan. 1, 2023, to sell to a licensed dealer or have the gun properly imprinted with a serial number by a federally licensed firearms dealer. 

Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. 

"This is not about attacking legal gun owners," Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said. "This is about us being responsible as a state to make sure that if folks are going to be buying weapons, they do it in a responsible and illegal way."

Maryland's Attorney General Brian Frosh said more than 25,000 privately made firearms have been confiscated by law enforcement since 2016, when ghost gun data tracking began, and more than 12,000 build kits were shipped to Maryland between 2016 and 2019.

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Increasingly, ghost guns are becoming the weapon of choice among the youngest offenders, legislators said. 

“All you need is a Dremel tool and a YouTube video and, as they specifically advertise, in an hour, or even less, you can have a functional handgun,” Frosh said of those buying ghost gun kits online. “We can no longer tolerate the fiction that these components should not be defined as regulated firearms.”

Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy also emphasized that the problem is "beginning to creep into our schools," noting that five ghost guns have been recovered at or near county schools this year. On Friday, a 15-year-old boy was shot in the bathroom of his Derwood high school, and prosecutors allege a fellow student used a ghost gun in the shooting.

"Kids can buy them, kids can build them, kids can distribute them, and kids can use them," McCarthy said. "And that's a pattern we're seeing, not only in my county but across the state."

Prince George's County Police Chief Malik Aziz said his department recovered 264 guns in 2021, an increase from 27 in 2019 and just one in 2016. In Montgomery County, ghost gun numbers increased five-fold in just two years, according to McCarthy.

"The bottom line is the right approach is to say these are firearms, they must be serialized, and background checks, along with other things have to accompany the distribution of these weapons," McCarthy said. 

Similar legislation has been proposed in recent years by two Montgomery County Democrats, Maryland Sen. Susan Lee and Del. Lesly Lopez. But the sponsors say they feel confident this is the year to pass anti-ghost gun legislation. 

"This year, the bill is in a different posture," Del. Lopez said. "It's different, because number one, it's an outright ban. In previous years, we've had to walk a very technical tightrope between federal law and state law and tried to come up with a solution that was the best fit for Maryland." 

Pending ATF regulations will also change the definition of a firearm to include unfinished frames or receivers, putting Maryland's proposed bill in line with federal law, according to Frosh.

The bill's sponsors said they do expect pro-Second Amendment groups, who have in the past opposed proposed gun safety legislation, to once again oppose this bill. 

"But we as lawmakers and as members of the law enforcement community have a role in keeping our community safe," Del. Lopez said. "And we are putting together a finely crafted bill that aims to do just that."

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