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Delaware Senate Democrats

Democratic lawmakers introduce three common-sense, public safety bills

April 10, 2019

DOVER – Democrats on Wednesday introduced a trio of bills designed to safeguard Delawareans from gun violence without infringing on the Constitutional freedoms of law-abiding gun owners.

The legislation seeks to eliminate the sale and import of firearms designed for use on the battlefield, limit the number of rounds a mass shooter can fire off without reloading, require safety training prior to the purchase of firearms, and ensure law enforcement officers have access to the information they need to investigate crimes involving firearms.

“For far too long, we’ve stood by and watched as across our country children have been murdered in their classrooms and gun violence has terrorized our communities,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark/Bear.

“The time has come for lawmakers in Dover to show the courage that voters demand of us and pass these common-sense measures that are supported by a majority of our country, including most gun-owning households,” he said. “These measures will protect the lives of our children, neighbors and police officers and multiple court rulings have found they do not infringe on the rights of law-abiding hunters, sportsmen and gun owners seeking to protect their families.”

The package of bills was unveiled during a rally organized by the Delaware chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, also attended by Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings and members of the Democratic caucuses from the state Senate and House.

Senate Bill 68 would ban the sale of about 60 specific assault-style weapons in Delaware, including AK-47s, AR-15s and UZIs. Maryland, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia have enacted similar bans, all of which have withstood legal challenges.

The legislation would grandfather existing weapons and protect their owners from being misidentified as law breakers while placing restrictions on the transportation and use of those weapons. The bill also would exclude police and military personnel.

“I am a proud U.S. Army veteran, a soldier who was on the frontlines trained to be an expert marksman on automatic weapons,” said Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, D-Wilmington, the prime House sponsor of SB 68.

“Those weapons were not just necessary to do my job, but became a valued part of who I was,” he said. “However, I know in my head and heart that these weapons of war have no place in our communities. I’ve seen so much loss to gun violence – families who have buried their children, students I’ve mentored gunned down and family members taken from me too soon. We have to change the culture of guns within our nation, state, cities and communities, and these bills are a substantial step forward.”

Senate Bill 70 would outlaw the sale of high-capacity magazines in Delaware, defined as any ammunition feeding device capable of holding more than 15 rounds. Nine states and the District of Columbia currently regulate how much ammunition can be loaded into a firearm, with all but two setting a more restrictive limit than what is being proposed in Delaware.

The bill also would create a buyback program and give Delaware gun owners until June 30, 2020, to relinquish their high-capacity magazines.

“There is no reason law-abiding gun owners would need to fire off more than 10 rounds without reloading,” said Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, the prime sponsor of SB 70. “But this kind of limitation absolutely will save lives in the event of a mass shooting.”

Senate Bill 69 would require prospective gun buyers to obtain a permit from the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security before they can legally purchase a firearm, mirroring a system now in place in New Jersey and at least three other states.

Such permitting procedures have been shown to be effective at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and others prohibited from owning a firearm. Connecticut’s former permit-to-purchase law correlated with a 40-percent reduction in firearm homicide rates, while the repeal of Missouri’s law was followed by a spike in that state’s homicide rate, according to two recent studies.

Under the Delaware bill, a permit for handguns would authorize the purchase of one weapon during the 90 days the card is active. A permit for rifles and shotguns would be valid for three years and allow unlimited purchases during that time.

Applicants would be required to complete a firearm training course, submit information similar to what can be found on a driver’s license, and have their fingerprints run through state and federal criminal databases. Further, the information already required to be collected for firearms sales would now also be required to be reported to law enforcement, which will assist in the investigation of gun crimes and discourage straw purchases.

“It makes no sense for the state to keep better records about who owns a car or a boat than who owns a firearm,” said Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Brandywine, the prime sponsor of SB 69. “Right now, we require people to get a permit to carry a gun and to sell a gun but not to purchase a gun. Closing that gap is the surest way we can protect the rights of responsible gun owners who follow the law, while making sure guns do not get in the hands of criminals.”