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Delaware Senate Democrats

Delaware Senate sends three guns safety bills to Governor John Carney

June 16, 2022

DOVER – The Delaware Senate on Thursday advanced nearly every piece of legislation included in the gun safety package that was first announced by Governor John Carney and legislative leaders earlier this month.

The Senate sent an historic assault-style weapons ban, strict limits on magazine capacity and legislation that will strengthen the effectiveness of background checks to Governor John Carney for his signature.

A bill to hold the gun industry accountable for reckless or negligent actions that lead to gun violence and separate legislation to outlaw devices used to convert semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic machine guns both passed the Senate and will now be considered by the Delaware House of Representatives.

“Today was a victory for the vast majority of Delawareans who demanded to see their elected officials take action on strong public safety legislation in the wake of this latest round of horrifying mass shootings,” Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola said. “I’m incredibly proud of my Caucus for fulfilling the promises they made on the campaign trail and I’m grateful to my colleagues in the House for working through some minor disagreements on the finer points of some bills with grace and understanding. By putting aside our differences and agreeing to work in the best interests of Delawareans, we were able to make incredible progress today on protecting the safety of our children and our communities.”

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Nicole Poore, House Bill 450 will effectively discontinue the buying and selling of more than 60 assault-style rifles and handguns in Delaware, including AR-15s, AK-47s, UZIs, and similar weapons used in seven of the deadliest mass shootings of the past decade.

Assault-style weapons legally purchased by Delawareans prior to House Bill 450 being signed into law would be grandfathered by the legislation, which also creates a process for the legal owners of those firearms to certify that their purchase occurred before the new law took effect.

The legal owners of those grandfathered firearms would still be allowed to possess, transport and use them on private property, at shooting ranges and during firearm courses, with certain restrictions. Law enforcement and military personnel acting in their official capacity also would be exempt.

“My number one priority – in this job and in my life – is the protection of our families,” Sen. Poore said. “Time and time again, our courts have ruled we can take steps to protect our families by limiting access to the most destructive and deadly weapons on the market. The weapons that will be discontinued by House Bill 450 are among those used in seven of the deadliest mass shootings of the last decade and 85% of the deaths caused by all mass shootings during that time. By discontinuing the buying and selling of these weapons in Delaware, we are making our children and our communities safer.”

“The intention of this legislation is simple and clear: To make sure the next Uvalde, the next Buffalo, the next Sandy Hook, does not take place in the state of Delaware. It’s to make sure that, in Delaware, it is against the law to obtain the kind of weapons that can inflict this level of carnage and devastation – highly lethal weapons with their origins in the field of military combat, which have ended up in our schools and shopping malls,” Rep. Longhurst said. “HB 450 is one piece of a puzzle that we have been working to put together for the last several years.”

Sponsored by Sen. Sokola and House Majority Whip Larry Mitchell, Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 6 will discontinue the sale of gun magazines capable of holding any more than 17 rounds, set elevated penalties for the use of illegal magazines in the commission of a crime and create a buyback program to purchase large-capacity magazines currently in circulation.

Large-capacity magazines have been used in all 10 of the deadliest mass shootings over the last decade, while mass shootings that involved large-capacity magazines have resulted in twice as many fatalities as those that do not, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“Passing gun safety measures has been one of the defining issues of my four-year tenure in the State Senate,” said Sen. Laura Sturgeon, a co-prime sponsor of Senate Bill 6. “As an educator who has gone through countless active shooter drills and who taught students dealing with the fear of gun violence in their daily lives, I am relieved that we have taken action to ban large-capacity magazines. This is an important step toward lessening the damage that person intent on harming others can do. Mass school shootings, like all mass shootings, are deadliest when the shooter can fire many rounds quickly without reloading. This bill will prevent that.”

Sponsored by Rep. Larry Mitchell and Sen. Dave Sokola, House Bill 423 will strengthen background checks and reduce straw purchases by reinstituting the state-run Firearm Transaction Approval Program in the State Bureau of Identification of the Delaware State Police.

Discontinued in 2011 during budget cuts related to the Great Recession, FTAP will once again become the point of contact for most firearm purchases or transfers in Delaware. The recreation of a state-run system will allow SBI to halt gun sales to people who would not be flagged by the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, including people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence and people with outstanding warrants.

“Thorough and complete background checks are still one of the best ways to ensure that people who should not possess firearms are not able to obtain them,” Rep. Mitchell said. “A national system can have gaps that potentially problematic buyers could slip through. Re-establishing FTAP will help us identify people who would otherwise be prohibited but NICS might have missed, such as a person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense. It will make our background check system stronger and more thorough and provide more protection for residents.”

HB 450, SS1 for SB 6 and HB 423 now head to Governor Carney for his signature.

The Senate on Thursday also sent two gun safety bills to the House for consideration.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend and Rep. Dave Bentz, Senate Bill 302 would amend the existing liability shield that protects gunmakers and gun dealers from civil action in the First State, even when their conduct knowingly or recklessly endangers the safety and health of Delawareans.

Also known as the Keshall “Keke” Anderson Safe Firearm Sales Act, SB 302 would allow someone harmed by the gun industry’s recklessness or negligence to sue for damages and other relief, while permitting the Delaware Department of Justice to seek an injunction prohibiting that gun industry member from continuing to engage in those actions.

“Losing a child to gun violence causes pain that lasts a lifetime,” said Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 302. “For those families grieving the death of a loved one, it is important that we give them the legal recourse to seek justice. The Keshall ‘KeKe’ Anderson Safe Firearm Sales Act will not just allow for victims to seek relief from the courts, but it also will hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable if they engage in reckless business practices.”

Sponsored by Sen. Dave Sokola and House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Senate Bill 8 would outlaw the possession, sale, and use of auto sears, “Glock switches,” and other devices that can convert semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic machine guns.

A gunman armed with a semi-automatic pistol modified with a machine gun conversion device shot three Houston police officers in January, while another gunman armed with a weapon modified by a similar device killed six people and wounded 12 others in Sacramento in April.

“Delaware took an important step in 2018 to ban bump stocks and trigger cranks. Unfortunately, firearm accessories and devices are always evolving, so we have to remain vigilant,” said Rep. Ed Osienski, a lead House sponsor of SB 8. “Automatic weapons already are illegal, so this should be a common-sense initiative to prohibit additional devices that can convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones. I look forward to passing this bill in the House.”

Senate Bill 302 and Senate Bill 8 are expected to be considered by the House next week.