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Frosh calls for ghost gun possession ban, decrying ‘deadly loophole’

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh on Thursday urged the General Assembly to pass legislation banning the possession of ghost guns, the increasingly prevalent untraceable firearms that can be assembled at home with parts bought online, regardless of the assembler’s age or criminal history.

“We can’t wait any longer to close this very deadly loophole” that enables the weapon parts to be sold, received and assembled legally, Frosh said in announcing his support for the bill to be formally introduced by Sen. Susan C. Lee and Del. Lesley J. Lopez, both Montgomery County Democrats.

If enacted, the statutory ban would be implemented in two stages: As of June 1, the sale, receipt, or transfer of unfinished ghost gun frames and receivers not serialized by the manufacturer would be prohibited in Maryland. The outright ban on possessing the unserialized firearms would go into effect Jan. 1.

Lawful owners of unserialized firearms, such as gun hobbyists, would have until the end of 2022 to either sell their weapons or to have them properly serialized by a licensed firearms dealer. Failure to do so would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, Frosh said.

The proposed ban drew strong support from Baltimore’s mayor and police commissioner, who joined Frosh for his announcement and said the city’s battle against gun violence has been exacerbated by the prevalence of ghost guns.

The unserialized weapons have been linked to 32 homicides in Baltimore last year, when more than 320 of the guns were seized by city police officers, the city leaders said. Thirty-one ghost guns have been seized in the first 20 days of 2022, a pace that would result in more than 700 seizures for the year, they added.

“Takedowns are not enough,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott said of the gun seizures.

“We need a ban,” he added. “We have to track and crack down on the gun trade.”

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison cited the “frightening increase” in ghost gun use in pressing for the ban.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz also voiced support for the ban, saying his officers seized 264 ghost guns in 2021 and another 10 in the first 20 days of 2022. The weapons have been linked to 13 homicides in the county, he added.

But Mark W. Pennak, president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue Inc., said the proposed ban would strike at law-abiding citizens while criminals bent on acquiring ghost guns will get them even if it means traveling to a nearby state.

“The idea that this is going to be efficacious is fantasy,” Pennak said Thursday. “The only people who are going to comply with this law are the law abiding”

Pennak also objected to the proposal placing hobbyists at the mercy of licensed gun dealers by imposing on them, under penalty of prison, the costly option of selling their unserialized guns to the top-bidding dealer or having their guns engraved by the lowest-charging dealer.

He said California has a more reasonable requirement that hobbyists contact the state to be assigned a serial number, which they can engrave on their guns and send a photo of the serialized weapons back to the state.

Lee and Lopez introduced ghost gun legislation with far less fanfare last year, and their cross-filed measure died. The legislators said they expect a better result this year.

“Ghost guns have been the weapon of choice” for violent criminals, Lee said. “It’s no-brainer, common-sense legislation.”

Lopez echoed Frosh in saying the legislation’s enactment would remove “a huge loophole” in the law.

The proposed ban has the outspoken support of the leaders of both General Assembly committees that will hold hearings on and review the legislation in the coming weeks.

“We are going to pass this this year,” said Sen. William C. “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, noted “an urgent need to regulate these weapons,” which are untraceable and can be assembled at home without the assemblers being subjected to a criminal background check.

The legislation marks Frosh’s first major foray into gun control legislation since 2013, when he, as Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee chair, led the fight for enactment of the Maryland Firearm Safety Act and its ban on 45 assault-style weapons.

Gun right advocates are challenging the constitutionality of that ban in the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices have not stated when they will vote on the advocates’ request for their review in the case, Dominic Bianchi et al. v. Brian E. Frosh et al., No. 21-902.