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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes amended safe storage bill

April 17, 2019

DOVER – The state Senate on Wednesday passed legislation designed to help keep guns away from children and criminals while also protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

The Senate voted 13 to 8 to approve House Bill 63 following the addition of a key amendment. The amendment was crafted to prevent gun owners from facing criminal charges if their firearm is stolen or otherwise falls into the wrong hands despite reasonable efforts to secure it properly.

“I applaud Rep. Sean Lynn for sponsoring this important legislation that is designed to both encourage responsible gun ownership and prevent accidental shootings,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark/Bear.

“My colleagues in the state Senate are committed to supporting reasonable gun safety legislation,” said Townsend, a Senate prime sponsor of the bill and the amendment. “At times, this means amending legislation to reduce the risk of creating unintended consequences.”

Narrowly passed by the House in March, HB 63 takes an existing law that bars gun owners from storing loaded weapons in easy reach of children and extends those restrictions to also include adults prohibited by law from owning a firearm.

The goal, Townsend said, is to ensure gun owners safely store their weapons and prevent those firearms from ending up in the wrong hands, not to punish people for circumstances beyond their control.

“The original bill placed a burden of proof on the gun owner, meaning that if their gun is stolen, then by the letter of the law, there would be an assumption that the owner was guilty of improperly storing their weapon,” Townsend said. “’Innocent until proven guilty’ is a fundamental tenet of our legal system and yet the original version of this bill might have forced the victims of a crime to prove their own innocence.”

The amendment passed by the Senate on Tuesday makes prosecutors responsible for proving that a stolen weapon was not properly stored, rather than the other way around.

Sen. Anthony Delcollo, R-Elsmere, a co-sponsor of the amendment, described the need for the change as a constitutional concern.

“The amendment would not only eliminate the chances of a law-abiding gun owner being exposed to criminal prosecution, but would also, and just as importantly, make the bill itself comport squarely with relevant precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said. “I was pleased to be able to work in a bipartisan manner to correct these concerns. We now have a strong bill that balances the rights of law-abiding Delawareans while discouraging what amounts to criminally dangerous behavior.”

Passage of the amended bill means the legislation now heads back to the House for reconsideration.