House passes bill on background checks

Amendment prohibits statewide gun registration system
April 7, 2013
House representatives passed a bill to expand background checks for private gun sales March 28. BY KARA NUZBACK

A bill to require background checks for the private sale of firearms was approved by the House March 28.  Backgrounds checks are already required for the sale or transfer of a gun through a licensed dealer in Delaware.

Representatives approved HB 35 in a vote of 24-17.  Five Democrats voted against the bill.  Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro attempted to add an amendment to the measure that would exempt shotguns.  “This came straight from my constituents,” he said.

The amendment failed by a voice vote.

The House approved 10 other amendments, introduced by sponsors of HB 35.  The bill’s lead sponsor, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, said the March 26 amendments stemmed from public testimony against the bill at two House Judiciary Committee hearings March 13 and March 20 – including one that states Delaware will not establish a gun registration system.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said the amendment makes it illegal for a licensed gun dealer to use information gathered from background checks to build a list of people who own firearms.  “We’re making sure we’re taking away a lot of the fear people have about passing this bill,” Schwartzkopf said.

Another amendment stipulates firearm transfer records would not be subject to Freedom of Information Act.

Some amendments added more exemptions for background checks. HB 35 included exemptions for law enforcement officers and immediate family members.  Amendments to the bill include exemptions for gun owners with concealed carry permits, people who repair firearms and then return them to their owner, or transfers facilitated by the death of a gun owner.  Background checks also would not be required for the sale of curios and relics to licensed collectors.

Another amendment stipulates no fee to return a firearm to its owner after a potential buyer fails a background check during a private sale.

HB 35 requires licensed dealers to perform background checks for all private sales or transfers.

At the March 20 committee hearing, members of the public testified HB 35 discriminated against the poor by allowing licensed dealers to charge $50 for each background check.  Under an amendment to the bill, the charge for a background check would be $30.

Citizens also testified the bill discriminated against anyone without photo identification.  Under an amendment, any citizens with religious objections to photo identification, such as the Amish community, could instead undergo a fingerprint background check with the State Bureau of Identification.

“This shows that we have listened to the NRA’s and gun-rights advocates’ concerns, and where there is agreement, we are making those changes,” Longhurst said in a press release. “The question now is whether the NRA will join us in supporting this common-sense measure to help keep firearms out the hands of people who should not have them, or if they will simply stand in the way of taking reasonable action.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for a final vote.  To read HB 35 and its amendments, go to

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