Delaware Seeks to Redefine Firearm

AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed

One thing you'll notice as you read proposed legislation is that most include something defining the terms. This is where you get the definition of, say, and "assault weapon" or "high-capacity magazine" from. 


Different levels of government may have different definitions for various things.

For example, the federal definition of a machine gun--a firearm capable of firing more than one round with a single pull of the trigger--doesn't actually apply to the first machine gun every produced: The Gatling Gun.

That's because the Gatling doesn't have a trigger, but a crank.

In Delaware, though, they define the term "firearm" rather broadly. Like, incredibly so. Now, there's an effort underway to tighten that term a bit.

Delaware's overly broad firearm laws encompass a range of non-lethal weapons from slingshots to paint guns, according to critics, who are pushing for changes in state law. 

A Republican-led proposal being considered by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee would redefine a firearm as "a weapon from which a shot, projectile or other object is designed or may readily be converted to be discharged by force of an explosive, whether operable or inoperable, loaded or unloaded."  

The proposal, if approved, would also create a new category of "projectile weapons” that include bows, crossbows, crossbow bolt, spears and air guns larger than .177 caliber, among other items. 

Under the state's criminal codes, a firearm includes "any weapon from which a shot, projectile or other object may be discharged by force of combustion, explosive, gas and/or mechanical means, whether operable or inoperable, loaded or unloaded." BB guns are not included. 

But critics say that overly broad definition means many non-lethal weapons, like slingshots, paint guns, and even pumpkin cannons are considered firearms that are subject to the state's gun control laws. 


Another backer, state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said the state Department of Justice has been reluctant to support the changes "because the broad definition gives prosecutors a wide amount of latitude to charge people with firearms crimes, even when a gun was not involved." 


The Delaware General Assembly is heavily Democratic, which might lead one to assume this proposal is dead on arrival. However, I think Pettyjohn's argument is one that might sway many of his colleagues who might be down on guns in general.

The truth is that a lot of Democrats tend to be what most of us would call "pro-criminal." They have a lot of issues with how people are charged and sentenced, and categorizing something like a slingshot as a firearm just so you can prosecute people for gun crimes may not sit well with them.

I mean, it doesn't sit well with me, either, but for very different reasons.

But let's also be real, the reasons I'm uncomfortable with that definition isn't likely to sway your average legislator in Delaware. They like the idea of people being disarmed as completely as possible.

Unless, of course, the wrong sort of people are incarcerated for not being disarmed. Then it becomes a bit more interesting. I'm not sure I'd want to bank on which way they'd go.

My hope is that Delaware lawmakers look at this and act responsibly, making sure people aren't locked up for something they could buy off of Amazon or have cobbled together themselves just for fun. Then again, this is Delaware, so I'm not holding my breath.


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