The Delaware Senate approved two gun-control bills Thursday after four hours of sometimes contentious debate that included a recess for technical difficulties.
DOVER — The Delaware Senate approved two gun-control bills Thursday after four hours of sometimes contentious debate that included a recess for technical difficulties.
By a 13-8 margin, senators sent to the House legislation that would require a permit to buy a handgun and would prohibit magazines capable of holding more than 17 rounds. Sen. Bruce Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat, joined the seven Senate Republicans in opposing the measures in what was otherwise a party-line vote.
The bills could be considered in a House committee as soon as April 20, the first day back after a two-week break.
Senate Bill 3 would mandate individuals seeking to buy a handgun first complete a training course. The person would then be able to submit an application to the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which would issue a qualified-purchaser card within 30 days (as long as the applicant is eligible). Applicants would have to pay for training and a background check.
The bill places no limit on the number of firearms that can be purchased during the 180 days a qualified-purchaser card is valid.
Delawareans who already have a concealed-carry permit would be exempt from the training course. Under the bill, the state would maintain a database of those who applied for a permit, using it solely to help trace firearms and identify criminals. Records would be cleared after two years, and the information would not be public.
Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 6 would outlaw “large-capacity” magazines, creating a buyback program and giving Delaware gun owners until June 30, 2022, to sell their magazines to the state for $10 apiece.
If it becomes law, possession of a large-capacity magazine would be a class-B misdemeanor for a first offense and a class-E felony for any subsequent violation.
The bills, which come just a few weeks after mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia killed a combined 18 people, are designed to limit gun violence in the state, in particular large-scale shootings. They were filed last week and heard in committee Wednesday.
Similar versions of both proposals were introduced in 2019 but never made it to the chamber floor.
Thursday saw stark differences on display, as the two sides clashed over the bills’ constitutionality, impact and popularity.
“For years, Delawareans have urged us to pass bold public safety reforms capable of stemming the gun violence that has brought bloodshed and devastation to our communities,” said Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, a Wilmington Democrat who is the main sponsor of the permit-to-purchase measure, in a statement.
“They asked us to raise the level of responsible gun ownership in this state. They expected us to give law enforcement the tools they need. And they demanded that we show courage in fulfilling our promises to them. Today, my colleagues in the Senate did exactly that and showed that Delawareans will no longer allow vocal hard liners to stand in the way of progress as more innocent lives are taken from us with each passing week.”
Supporters cited data indicating the federal ban on certain semi-automatic firearms and select magazines from 1994 to 2004 worked, as well as findings highlighting the decrease in gun homicides and suicides in Connecticut after it enacted a permit-to-purchase law and increases in the same categories in Missouri when it repealed its permit requirement.
A 2013 report from Johns Hopkins University referenced during the debate found permit-to-purchase laws result in a stark decline in “crime gun exports.”
“Magazines capable of feeding 30, 40, 50 or 100 rounds of ammunition into weapons are a common thread among mass shootings in the United States,” President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, a Democrat from Newark who introduced the magazine bill, said during the debate.
“The 10 deadliest mass shootings of the last 10 years all involved large-capacity magazines. The reason is obvious: The more bullets one can fire, the more death and injury one can cause.”
But opponents pointed to their own statistics contradicting the majority’s facts, such as a 2019 analysis from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics that found 90% of federal inmates who possessed a gun during their offense did not get it from a “retail source.” A 2018 study from the RAND Corp., a think tank, concluded it’s unclear whether permit-to-purchase laws lower gun crimes, despite the Johns Hopkins research.
“We already have both federal- and state-level crimes against straw purchases,” Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, an Ocean View Republican, told colleagues. “In fact, we have literally dozens of laws concerning firearms, literally none of which affect criminal conduct and nearly all of which impact only law-abiding citizens who merely want to exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms in defense of self, family, home and state and for hunting and recreation.”
Republicans repeatedly challenged Democrats’ claims the bills will prevent violence, arguing they will do nothing to stop gun crimes, violate both the U.S. and Delaware constitutions and are unfair on several levels.