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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate Democratic leadership sponsors gun safety legislation

March 25, 2021

DOVER – Two of the highest-ranking Democrats in the Delaware Senate on Thursday introduced a pair of common-sense public safety bills designed to promote responsible gun ownership in Delaware and reduce the firepower capability of deadly weapons.

“Through countless polls and election cycles, Delawareans have been clear in their support for measures that will reduce the gun violence plaguing our communities and address the wave of mass shootings gripping our nation,” said Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington. “We cannot stand idly by and allow the carnage to continue without taking direct and meaningful action to curb the flow of high-powered weaponry streaming into our neighborhoods. The bills we introduced today will raise the level of responsible gun ownership in our state and give local police the tools they need to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals.”

Sen. Lockman is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 3, legislation that would add Delaware to a growing list of states that require their residents to complete firearm training and obtain a permit before purchasing a handgun – a measure proven to reduce both homicide and suicide in other states.

Under the bill, most prospective handgun purchasers would be required to complete an approved firearm training course within five years of applying for a permit to purchase a handgun. Those permitted to carry a concealed deadly weapon by the State of Delaware would be exempted from that requirement because they are already required to complete a firearm training course.

After completing a training course, Delaware residents legally eligible to purchase a handgun would then be required to submit an application to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The department would have 30 days to fingerprint applicants, confirm they are legally permitted to own a handgun, and issue a qualified purchaser card required at the point of sale.

Applicants would not be charged any fees and the legislation places no restrictions on the number of handguns that can be purchased during the 180 days that a qualified purchaser card is valid.

DSHS would be required to notify applicants in writing of a denial. Anyone denied a qualified purchaser card would have 30 days to request a hearing before their local Justice of the Peace Court, which would be required to schedule a hearing within 15 days of receiving the request.

A similar permit law passed in Connecticut in 1995 has been associated with a 40% reduction in that state’s firearm homicide rate and a 15% decrease in its firearm suicide rate in its first decade, while a 2018 study of 80 large urban counties found permit laws were associated with an 11% decrease in firearm homicides.

Traci Murphy, executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, said this policy is critical for preventing gun violence in Delaware.

“Simply put, gun laws save lives,” she said. “The states with the strongest laws have the lowest rates of suicide and homicide by firearm. All Delawareans deserve to live in the safest possible communities.”

Strong permit laws also have been found to help prevent gun trafficking and the diversion of guns to criminals. States with strong permit laws are associated with 76% lower rates of guns exported to criminals.

To date, at least 14 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of firearm permitting law, including New York, New Jersey and Maryland. A recent survey found that 74% of registered Delaware voters support gun permit policies, regardless of geography, party affiliation or gun ownership.

“We require individuals to obtain permits and to undergo training before they can safely operate a motor vehicle or serve alcohol. It is reasonable and prudent to conclude that individuals who wish to purchase a handgun should complete a similar training course, so they are better able to safely handle and use that firearm,” said Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, the bill’s lead House sponsor. “This bill does not restrict a law-abiding person’s ability to purchase a firearm. As a Second Amendment supporter, this is a public safety measure which ensures that a person who is buying a handgun has learned how to properly store, care for and use that deadly weapon. This bill will save lives, it will make responsible gun owners even safer, and it will help keep firearms out of the hands of people who should not possess them.”

Also on Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola introduced Senate Bill 6, legislation that would outlaw the sale of large-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 17 rounds. The bill also would create a buyback program and give Delaware gun owners until June 30, 2022 to sell their large-capacity magazines to the state.

“Responsible gun owners have no legitimate need to fire off 17 rounds without reloading,” said Sokola, D-Newark. “But limiting the sale of these absurdly large magazines will help to save lives in police standoffs and mass shootings where these items inevitably lead to far greater deaths and casualties.”

Firearms equipped with large-capacity magazines are also increasingly used by criminals. A 2018 study found that as many as 36% of guns used in crimes were equipped with large-capacity magazines, as were 40% of guns used in serious violent crimes, including the murders of police officers.

At least nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning large-capacity magazines, including New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

“When I served in the military, I carried weapons capable of firing dozens of rounds without reloading. There is no reason for a civilian to be able to fire 20, 30 or 100 bullets at one time – not for hunting, and not for self-defense,” said Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, D-Wilmington North, the bill’s lead House sponsor. “Limiting the number of rounds that can be fired without reloading is a meaningful way to reduce gun violence – without restricting any law-abiding person’s ability to buy, own or possess a firearm. We have seen too many mass shootings where gunmen using these large-capacity magazines have hurt or killed dozens without reloading. It has to stop, and Delaware must take this step now, before we have our own tragedy on our hands.”

Governor John Carney and Attorney General Kathy Jennings both voiced support for both SB 3 and SB 6.

“It’s past time for serious action to address gun violence that plagues communities across our country. The tragic and senseless shootings in Boulder, Colo., and Atlanta only make that more clear,” Governor Carney said. “I agree with President Biden that Congress should take immediate action to protect American communities. In the meantime, we won’t wait to do what’s right in Delaware. Thank you to members of the General Assembly for their leadership and partnership on this issue.”

“Owning a gun is a right and a responsibility. The vast majority of Delawareans support smart gun safety policies, including permits and magazine capacity limits, because they refuse to accept the status quo on gun violence,” Attorney General Jennings said. “We’ve seen how effective these policies are in other states: in one permit to purchase state alone, gun homicides fell by 40% and gun suicides fell by 15%. These are common sense, constitutionally sound bills and I applaud Sen. Lockman, Sen. Sokola, and their colleagues for introducing them. I’ll do everything in my power to help the General Assembly pass them this year.”

Mara Gorman, the volunteer state legislative leader with the Delaware chapter of Moms Demand Action, also endorsed SB 3 and SB 6, along with other gun safety measures proposed in the 151st General Assembly.

“We’re thrilled to see lawmakers prioritize gun safety legislation and introduce more common-sense bills than ever before,” she said. “The measures introduced this session address the complexities of gun violence in our state and will undoubtedly save lives. We look forward to working with lawmakers to get this legislation on the books and protect our communities from needless violence.”

SB 3 and SB 6 are scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 31.