Delaware officials are taking action they say will reduce gun violence and quash the likelihood of a future school shooting.
Gov. Jack Markell, Lt. Governor Matt Denn and Attorney General Beau Biden unveiled a series of gun proposals, Jan. 14 – one month after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 children and six school employees before committing suicide.
The five proposals are aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and making schools safer.
“The gun-safety measures we are proposing will strengthen our ability to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them,” Markell said. “Instead, we must enact stronger laws to protect our communities.
Reasonable gun-safety laws, improvements to school safety and increased access to mental-health treatment are three ways we can do better,” he said.
Markell's proposals included no mention of mental health treatment.
The first proposal would require background checks for the private sale of all firearms. Under existing law, no background check is required when the sale or transfer of a gun does not involve a licensed dealer. In a press release, Markell’s administration estimated 40 percent of all firearms nationwide are acquired from unlicensed sellers.
Transfers involving family members would be exempt from the law. The background check also would not be required for the sale or transfer of shotguns.
Another proposal would require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours. Markell said the law would deter gun trafficking. “When a gun is found at a crime scene and later traced back to the original owner, the owner may falsely claim that a gun was lost or stolen in order to hide his involvement in trafficking or straw purchasing,” the release stated.
Markell said the law would also ensure citizens whose guns have been lost or stolen are not charged with a crime.
The third proposal would ban the sale, manufacture, delivery and unlawful possession of large-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds for any handgun and more than five rounds for any rifle or shotgun.
“According to the Citizens Crime Commission of New York, 30 mass shootings, with four or more victims killed, occurred in the United States from 1982 through 2012. Although the circumstances of such mass shootings varied, each incident had one thing in common: They all involved one or more large-capacity ammunition magazines,” Markell’s release stated.
According to the proposal, possession of a high-capacity magazine would be unlawful only in a public place and within 20 feet of a firearm capable of accepting the magazine. The bill would exempt certain shooting ranges so the possession and use of large-capacity magazines at some ranges would not be prohibited.
Another proposal would ban the sale, manufacture, delivery and unlawful possession of military-style weapons. According to the release, “The sale of military-style assault weapons – firearms that are made for the battlefield and have no place in our communities – was outlawed in 1994, but the ban expired a decade later. One such weapon – the Bushmaster AR-15 – wasused in the Newtown shootings and also in the murders of two firefighters in Webster, N.Y., on Christmas Eve last year.”
The proposal would allow the continued possession and use of military-style weapons in some circumstances, when the weapons were purchased prior to the effective date of the ban.
The last proposal would ban possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.
“The purpose of this law is to create safe school zones where children are secure, where parents can have peace of mind that upon leaving them in the morning they will not be subjected to gun violence and where teachers can go about their important task of educating our youth without fear of violence. This is not intended to restrict the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns,” the release stated.
Citizens who own property near schools and possess firearms would be exempt under the proposal.
Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Lewis Schiliro, members of the General Assembly and police officers surrounded Markell as he made the announcement.
“With respect to guns, our proposals focus on two important goals: Keeping guns away from dangerous people, and protecting victims from the weapons most likely to be used illegally,” Denn said.
Biden said, “As a father, veteran and the state’s top law-enforcement officer, I know that military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips designed for battle have no place on our streets. These proposals are a reasonable and sensible approach that will improve public safety and respect the Second Amendment.”
In a statement released minutes after Markell’s speech ended, NRA representatives said Markell is pushing an anti-gun agenda, not trying to protect children.
The NRA stated Markell’s proposal violates the Second Amendment and the Delaware Constitution. “Proposals which outlaw commonly-owned modern hunting and competitive shooting rifles make it impossible to operate firearms in a manner suitable for self-defense, and which criminalize the traditions and hunting heritage of a father passing a gun to his child will be strongly opposed,” the association said.
The NRA said it supports boosting school safety and improving mental-health diagnoses.
Legislation on each of the five proposals is expected to be introduced in the General Assembly by Thursday, Jan. 24.