Noah Shepardson: Serpa “Ghost Gun” Bill Makes Hobbyists Criminals

Tuesday evening, the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new gun control bill, H7102, sponsored by Representative Patricia Serpa (D, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick).  The proposed bill would effectively criminalize the possession and manufacturing of both homemade guns (guns made from traditional gun parts such as 80% receivers) as well as 3D-printed guns in the state.

Referred to as “ghost guns” in the legislation due to their typical lack of a serial number, homemade guns are perfectly legal to own under federal law; the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 only prohibits those lacking a Federal Firearms License (FFL) from selling or distributing homemade guns, not from making them for personal use, something that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has also confirmed.

The other caveat to the ownership of these weapons is that they must be in compliance with the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. This act mandates that a homemade gun must contain enough metal so as to be detectable in a metal detector, and its major components, such as the slide, frame, and receiver, must be identifiable by x-ray machines, like those found in airports. 3D-printed guns, which can be made entirely of plastic, are required to have a piece of metal inserted into the firearm to comply with the law.

Likewise, homemade guns must also be in compliance with the provisions outlined in the National Firearms Act of 1934 and, as is the case with all gun ownership in the United States, the owner of the homemade gun cannot be a convicted felon. In other words, homemade guns are already quite highly regulated.

While a press release declares the intention of the bill is to “prohibit the manufacturing, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, or transfer of any ghost gun or firearm that is undetectable by metal detectors commonly used at airports and public buildings, including 3D printed firearms,” the bill would actually go much farther than the statement suggests. Serpa’s legislation would ban the manufacturing and possession of homemade guns outright, even if they are in compliance with the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which, again, already prohibits ownership of undetectable weapons.

The bill states:

No person shall manufacture, sell, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, possess, or have under his or her control a ghost gun or an undetectable firearm or any firearm produced by a 3D printing process. Any person convicted of violating this subsection shall be punished by imprisonment of not more than ten (10) years, or by a fine up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), and except for a first conviction under this section shall not be afforded the provisions of suspension or deferment of sentence, nor probation.

As is clearly stated, the mere ownership of any gun manufactured at home, including those created by a 3D printing process, would be punishable by a large fine and even jail time. Criminalizing a hobby enjoyed by many law-abiding gun owners and stripping Rhode Islanders of their long-recognized right to create their own firearms for personal use and protection is not an appropriate way to address gun violence.

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