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Pa. House passes bill banning ‘ghost gun’ parts

A display of ‘ghost guns’ displayed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office during a Capitol news conference on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019 (Credit: Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 27, 2024

The Pennsylvania House passed a bill on Wednesday to close loopholes in the Uniform Firearms Act and prohibit the purchase, sale, and production of untraceable gun parts, known as “ghost guns.”

State Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia), sponsor of the bill, said it was an opportunity to get in front of the issue like other states had done already. 

“In this body for far too long, we constantly focus on singularly going after bad actors once the crimes are committed,” she said. 

Cephas said Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey have taken similar steps in addressing ghost guns. She emphasized that the bill doesn’t make those firearms illegal, but it attempts to curb the access to untraceable guns, which are difficult for law enforcement to track, since they don’t have serial numbers on them.

“These are becoming the weapon of choice for so many violent criminals,” Cephas said, referring to ghost guns. 

House Bill 777 passed by a 104-97 vote. One Democrat, state Rep. Frank Burns of Cambria County, voted against the bill, while three Republicans from the southeast, state Reps. Joe Hogan, K.C. Tomlinson, and Martina White, voted in favor of it. The rest of the vote was along party lines, with Republicans voting against.

A majority of Republicans who voiced their opposition to the bill on the House floor questioned the constitutionality of the legislation and asked if it would affect law-abiding gun owners rather than criminals. 

“This is about our forefathers. This is about our grandfathers and it’s about us today and upholding the principles that we have lived with here for hundreds of years in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States of America,” state Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) said, when declaring his “no” vote. 

Prior to the vote on final passage, 101 members voted in the affirmative that the bill was constitutional, while 100 members voted against it.

Gov. Josh Shapiro voiced his support for the legislation shortly after its passage on Wednesday.

“Ghost guns are dangerous, DIY weapons criminals can put together in their own home — and I’ve been fighting for legislation like this since I was Attorney General. The State Senate must pass this bill to close the ghost gun loophole, help crack down on the violence in our communities, and make all Pennsylvanians safer,” Shapiro wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) referenced Shapiro during his defense of the bill and echoed the governor’s earlier statement that the legislation doesn’t infringe upon real freedoms. 

“Real freedom isn’t the ability to buy an overseas handmade gun without a serial number,” Bradford said. “That’s not a constitutional right. It’s bad public policy and it’s unconscionable.” 

House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said he’s built his own firearms and understands the process. He doesn’t think the legislation will affect criminals, but rather anyone who owns a gun.

“I believe if we’re trying to stop violent crime committed with untraceable firearms — that’s what the stated purpose is— what it does instead, is creates an overly broad offense that can loop in and make criminals of everyday gun owners who already own these firearms simply by the mere possession and a change in the law,” Cutler said. 

“But creating a new offense that largely impacts the hobbyist, the enthusiast, and those responsible law abiding gun owners more than the criminal, no thank you,” Cutler added.

State Rep. Brian Munroe (D-Bucks), a retired police officer and gun owner, said ghost guns make law enforcement officers’ jobs harder. 

“Allowing the pervasiveness of ghost guns not only threatens our society, but it also threatens the lives of our men and women in blue, and it gives another tool to the criminal element seeking to do us harm,” Munroe said. “House Bill 777 is a sensible piece of legislation that catches Pennsylvania law up to today’s modern times and it will empower our police to protect both themselves and the public.”

But state Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R-Berks), who spent 26 years as a state trooper and 12 years as a sheriff, said the legislation wouldn’t prevent criminals from making ghost guns.

“No matter what laws we pass, they’re going to do what they want to do,” Jozwiak said.

Since regaining a majority in the state House, Democrats have introduced several pieces of legislation pertaining to gun safety. 

In May 2023, the state House passed two bills intended to prevent gun suicides and require universal background checks for rifle and shotgun purchases. These bills have not advanced in the Senate. 

House Bill 777, like those other gun reform bills that have previously passed the House, faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.