The Delaware definition of "firearm" could soon change.

Task force redefining ‘firearm’ moves closer to decision

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Government

The Delaware definition of "firearm" could soon change.

The Delaware definition of “firearm” could soon change.

A task force charged with updating the state’s definition of “firearm” plans to take one more look next week at the new proposed language.

If approved, a bill would be introduced this year proposing the change. 

One reason for a new definition is because Delaware has a uniquely general and large definition of a “firearm,” in which any device that launches any object by any means is considered a firearm under current law.  

That would include nail guns, slingshots, crossbows, staplers, archery equipment, Air Soft guns and more if the police or a prosecutor wished to consider them as such.

The task force, headed by Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Claymont and Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin, held its eighth Monday.

Rep. Cyndie Romer, D-Newark, asked who specifically is negatively impacted by the current definition. 

Spiegelman said it creates burdens for making laws around guns.

“Especially in the last 12 years, the General Assembly has become increasingly involved in crafting firearms, gun control bills,” he said, “and we have found that as we do that, we occasionally run into something and we do something or we almost do something that we didn’t intend to do – that the intent is to control the thing that goes ‘bang,’ not necessarily bow and arrows.”

He said it might be impossible to store bow and arrows in the way that Delaware law mandates people store standard guns. 

Spiegelman said the current definition doesn’ always follow common sense.

He pointed to the example of how someone prohibited from using firearms might be using one, per the current definition, every single day on a construction job if they were using a nail gun. 

“The police in the course of doing the job that we must have them do are seizing objects that they’re legally not supposed to be seizing, but everybody on this call agrees they should probably seize,” he said, “so there’s a whole host of problems when you have a definition of firearm that is overly broad and runs contrary to the common sense.”

He started the meeting by saying that a drafted new definition should also include “spear guns” used for fishing, so that will likely be added next Tuesday when the task force takes its final look.

A Department of Justice representative said the agency’s position remains that the state should maintain a non-specific definition of projectile weapon because it is very hard to think of every object that could be explicitly included in a bill. 

“We do believe that this new definition that we’re working does take into account the DOJ’s legitimate concern about ‘person-prohibit,’ that it does take into account the DOJ’s legitimate concern about commission of a felony with one of these items, protection from violence orders, lethal violence protection orders,” Spiegelman said, “so I appreciate the DOJ is working with us throughout this process to get this as close to right as possible.”

Sturgeon agreed that there’s a challenge in trying to capture every single possible object into a uniform definition to use in Code.

“I’m sitting here racking my brain to try and come up with, to try and figure out other than spear gun, what other technologies would need to be added to this that currently exist out in the world, Spiegelman said, “and I think we can leave this open-ended a little bit to add simply ‘spear’ to something that is thrown at an object with lethal force.”

A draft of the legislation can be found here:

20240215 – HB re Firearm Definition Task Force Draft Bill

The Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control shared a statement with concerns about a new definition. 

“What is most concerning for the Department is that some of the prohibited individuals have violent felony records and/or PFA orders,” it stated. “It certainly places an undue risk to law enforcement, as the Department’s Natural Resource Police Officers routinely interact with individuals with firearms in various field settings. We also have similar concerns associated with public and staff interactions with such individuals.”

They pointed to bow and arrows also, which appear to be an increasingly popular object of choice for hunting.

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