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General Assembly passes ‘ghost gun’ ban

Possession of “ghost guns” would be banned as of next March under legislation the General Assembly passed Tuesday that is now headed to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.

Under the measure, the criminal penalties for possessing unserialized guns would apply only if the possessor knew or reasonably should have known the firearm was not imprinted with a serial number.

The bill would give lawful owners of unserialized firearms — such as gun hobbyists — until the day before the ban on possession takes effect, on March 1, 2023, to either sell their weapons or have them properly serialized by a licensed firearms dealer. Failure to do so would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, a penalty that would not prohibit the offender from ever again possessing a firearm.

The law would go into effect on June 1, when the sale, receipt, or transfer of unfinished ghost gun frames and receivers not serialized by the manufacturer would be prohibited in Maryland. As of March 1, 2023, the possession of such guns would be banned.

The Senate passed the measure March 16 on a 35-11 vote. The House of Delegates passed the measure 92-41 on Tuesday. Both vote tallies would be enough to override a gubernatorial veto.

Hogan’s office said in a statement Tuesday that the governor “will consider this bill once it gets to his desk.”

The measure – Senate Bill 387 – was introduced at the request of Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who on Tuesday hailed its passage.

“These untraceable firearms have become the weapon of choice for criminals,” Frosh said in a statement.

“They are easily purchased over the internet without a background check, making them easily accessible to children, violent felons, domestic abusers, and others who are ineligible to own a firearm,” Frosh added. “This bill closes a loophole that makes it difficult for law enforcement to do its job and creates a terrible public safety threat. This legislation will save lives.”

Mark W. Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, said his gun rights group will urge Hogan to veto what he called a “legally incoherent” bill that is unnecessary due to soon-to-be issued federal regulations that will prohibit the distribution of unserialized kits.

Pennak said the bill, if enacted, will turn law-abiding hobbyists into criminals because the statute would provide insufficient time for them to get their guns serialized by federal licensed dealers with potentially conflicting federal and state obligations.

“That’s how gun control is done in Maryland,” Pennak said. “They criminalize the innocent.”

The legislation was supported by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, who each told lawmakers last month that ghost guns are being used more frequently.

Elrich, in pressing for the ban, cited a 17-year-old student’s alleged shooting of a 15-year-old pupil with a ghost gun in January at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Derwood. The alleged shooter, Steven Alston Jr., has been charged with attempted second-degree murder.

“We cannot let ourselves become number to gun violence,” Elrich told the House committee.

SB 387 was formally introduced by Sen. Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery.

Ghost guns are not only “the weapon of choice” for violent criminals but also for troubled teens able to build the unserialized firearms from kits, she said.

“The kids are more savvy than some of the adults because they understand technology,” Lee said Tuesday.

“We have to do something,” she added. “This (measure) will help keep our streets, our families and our communities safer.”

The legislation was cross-filed in the House, where Del. Del. Lesley J. Lopez, D-Montgomery, formally introduced House Bill 425.