Senator set to propose gun legislation

Bill would allow local governments to decide firearm laws
January 11, 2013
Under a proposal from Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington West, high capacity magazines, such as this 30-round magazine for an AK-47, would be banned in Delaware. SOURCE FILE PHOTO

Gun control would be a county and municipal issue under legislation expected to be introduced in Dover this legislative session.

Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington West, announced Jan. 4 he would sponsor bills to combat gun violence by banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The senator also said a separate bill would give county and municipal governments the ability to impose their own gun-licensing laws. Under Marshall’s proposal, the state would establish a framework and penalties for gun control, but local governments could enact individual firearm ordinances.

“While it makes sense from a prosecutorial standpoint to have a uniform state law, it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits all proposition. I think we need to trust our local governments to judge their own situations and have this public safety tool available to them,” Marshall said in a press release.

Newly elected Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, a retired Delaware State Trooper, opposes Marshall’s proposal. "Such a statute would result in the Balkanization of firearms laws in our state, producing a patchwork of ordinances that would change from one locale to the next. Firearms laws are the purview of the state government, and we should not be relinquishing that responsibility," Smyk said.

The General Assembly is expected to consider a number of gun control bills during the 2013 legislative session, which convened Jan. 8.

The proposals come in response to the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Three weeks ago, a 20-year-old man fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members before turning the gun on himself.

"I'm sure these proposals will generate a serious public debate, but I think the shooting in Newtown, Conn., may have created a new sense of urgency in dealing with this problem," Marshall said.

Marshall said he would look to Vice President Joe Biden for gun-reform efforts and use the 1994 Biden Crime Law as a starting point for legislation.

“There’s no legitimate reason to have these guns and these big magazines on the street. If you look at Newtown, the movie theater massacre in Colorado and most of the other mass shootings in this country since the horror at Columbine High School, semi-automatic pistols or assault-style weapons with high-capacity magazines have played a key role. We may need to add some new weapons, but the work the vice president did in 1994 certainly gives us a good starting point.”

Marshall also said Gov. Jack Markell should instruct the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to reach out to local governments and stage gun buy-back programs. He said he would reintroduce legislation to make it easier for local police departments to use state money for local gun buy-back events.

A pilot gun buy-back effort was held in the city of Wilmington in 2011, and the Joint Finance Committee included funds in the current state budget to finance gun buy-back events.  Marshall said the pilot program was a success, and the Joint Finance Committee allocated $200,000 in this year’s budget for more buyback events.

House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, argued the $200,000 earmarked for the gun buy-back efforts could be used more efficiently elsewhere. "Gun buy-back programs have not been proven to have any impact on reducing gun-related crimes. Usually, they only succeed in purchasing antiquated firearms that were highly unlikely to be involved in any illicit activity," Hudson said.

Marshall argued gun legislation is a pressing issue for his constituency.  “While we in Wilmington have to face the specter of gun violence on an almost daily basis, efforts at passing smart gun laws have always had a rough time because my colleagues from other parts of the state have had a hard time relating to it,” he said.

Marshall said plans to use New York’s gun-licensing law as a model for Delaware’s law.  “We can take the best elements of that law and adapt them for use here. This isn’t an effort to ‘come for people’s guns.’ This says that we need to develop standards and keep tabs on guns in the same way we register cars or monitor hazardous materials.”

Marshall said he would reach out to Markell, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the National Rifle Association to help develop his legislation.

“This will be a tough fight, and I’ll need all the support I can enlist to succeed. I also welcome the constructive ideas of the people who join with me in this fight to make the proposals I’m offering even better,” Marshall said.