State senators approved a bill to expand background checks for gun sales, voting 13-8 April 18. House Bill 35, which passed the House March 28, now awaits only a signature from Gov. Jack Markell before it becomes law.
Markell first proposed the measure in January as part of a package of gun control bills. Under HB 35, federally licensed gun dealers must perform background checks for private gun sales, and they may charge up to $30 for the service.
The bill excludes transfers between immediate family members, law enforcement officers and gun owners with a concealed-carry permit.
Under the bill, anyone who violates the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor for a first offense and a felony for further offenses. The cases would fall within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court.
Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, argued the bill should send first offenders to a lower court than Superior, and he proposed an amendment that would give Court of Common Pleas jurisdiction over the first, misdemeanor offense. The amendment failed in a 13-7 vote.
Markell’s Chief Legal Counsel Andy Lippstone said many law-abiding citizens could unknowingly sell guns to criminals. From 2006 to 2012, 3,000 gun sales were stopped because the buyer failed a background check, he said.
“Everyone of those denials is a success,” Lippstone said.
Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, testified in favor of the bill at a Senate judiciary committee hearing April 17. Giffords survived injuries she suffered in a 2011 Tucson shooting that left six people dead.
“My family has been immeasurably affected by gun violence,” Kelly said.
Kelly also said he and Giffords are gun owners. “We believe wholly and completely in the Second Amendment. We would never, ever give it up,” he said. “But rights demand responsibility.”
The bill was released from the Senate committee in a vote of 4-1 after about two hours of public testimony. The majority of those who testified were opposed to the bill.
Tim Bond, of Felton, said the contents of HB 35 would not have stopped Tucson shooter Jared Loughner from buying a gun. Bond also noted Kelly was given five minutes for his testimony, while Delaware residents were given only two minutes each.
Shortly before the hearing, about 100 Delaware 9-12 Patriots rallied against the measure outside Legislative Hall.
9-12 Patriots Executive Director Theresa Garcia presented lawmakers with a petition signed by 3,450 opponents of the measure. She also encouraged citizens to voice their opinions to Senators Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, Catherine Cloutier, R-Heatherbrooke, and Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, all three of whom voted to approve the bill.
Before the Senate vote, Lopez said expanding background checks to private sales protects the seller. A person who sells a gun to a stranger is not necessarily a fool, he said; they might just need an extra $500.
Lopez also said he performs background checks on people attempting to work with children at his job. Sometimes, he said, the check finds the person applying is a sex offender.
Lopez said if the background check protects one victim, he is willing to be inconvenienced. “And we should all be willing to do that,” he said.