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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes bill to raise firearm purchasing age in Delaware

June 28, 2022

DOVER – The Delaware Senate on Tuesday passed legislation to raise the legal purchasing age for all firearms to 21.

Federal law requires a buyer to be at least 21 years old for all handgun purchases, but only 18 years old for long guns. State law mirrors those federal requirements.

Sponsored by House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, House Bill 451 would increase the age at which a person can buy a long gun from 18 to 21, matching the federal purchase age for handguns.

“Six of the nine deadliest mass shootings in the United States since 2018 have been perpetrated by people 21 or younger, including the recent shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde,” said Sen. Sokola, D-Newark. “While we have recognized that young people should not be allowed to purchase handguns since the 1960s, you somehow can still walk into a sporting goods store on your 18th birthday and purchase a far more powerful weapon that’s capable of far greater bloodshed? Even Donald Trump recognizes that makes zero sense. I want to thank my colleagues in the Delaware General Assembly for recognizing that it is time we raise the legal age for all firearm purchases to 21.”

According to the Giffords Law Center, six other states require a person to be 21 to purchase a long gun. The others, including Delaware, follow the federal requirement of 18 years of age.

HB 451 would allow limited exceptions for shotguns and muzzle-loading rifles and related ammunition. Active military members, National Guard members, law enforcement officers, and those who have a concealed-carry license who are 18 years or older also would be exempted. The bill also would allow a person under the age of 21 to possess or control a firearm for hunting as long as they are under the direct supervision of someone over the age of 21.

An amendment added by the Senate would prevent people currently between the ages of 18 and 21 who already own legally purchased firearm from being subject to criminal charges for possessing those weapons, and makes clear that Delawareans under the age of 21 are permitted to safely transport those weapons for the purpose of participating in hunting, target shooting and other exempted activities.

The amended bill now heads back to the House, which overwhelmingly passed the original version of the bill on June 14.

“We already prohibit people under 21 from buying a handgun, and there’s no reason we should treat long guns any differently. In Delaware, the most common age for shooters has been 18-21 the past few years,” said Rep. Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach “Unfortunately, what we saw in Uvalde and Buffalo happened in Parkland four years ago – someone under 21 bought a gun that was designed for the military and used it to murder students. It’s long past time that Delaware lead on this issue and raise the age for buying a rifle to 21.”

HB 451 is one of three gun safety bills awaiting final passage in the House.

The Senate on June 16 sent a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons, strict limits on magazine capacity and legislation to strengthen the effectiveness of background checks to Governor John Carney for his signature.

The same day, the Senate passed 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 of those measures were slated to be considered by the House on Tuesday.

All six bills are part of a historic gun safety package first announced by Governor Carney and legislative leaders on June 2 in the wake of a mass shooting perpetrated by an 18-year-old man at a Buffalo supermarket that killed 10 people and injured three others and a mass shooting perpetrated by an 18-year-old man at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers, while wounding 17 others.