Legislation to restrict the sale and use of magazines capable of firing more than 10 rounds cleared a House committee May 1 and now heads to the House floor for a vote.
House Bill 58, sponsored by retired New Castle County Police Sgt. Rep. John L. Mitchell, would prohibit the manufacture, sale, purchase, transfer or delivery of magazines capable of firing more than 10 rounds.
Opponents of the bill say the measure is impractical, and it is an infringement on citizens’ Constitutional rights.
Citizens who already legally own large-capacity magazines would be exempt from the law, but they could possess the clip and the firearm only on private property and at shooting ranges.
High-capacity magazines would be prohibited entirely in public places.
Violators of the proposed law would face misdemeanor charges for a first offense and a felony charges for any subsequent offense.
Under HB 58, large-capacity magazines would not include devices permanently altered so they cannot accept more than 10 rounds. Also excluded are ammunition-feeding devices capable of operating with only .22-caliber rimfire ammunition.
Mitchell, D-Elsmere, presented the bill to the House Administration Committee. He noted three shootings in recent years in which large-capacity magazines were used – Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, Aurora, Colo., in July 2012 and Newtown, Conn., in December.
“These large-capacity clips, which can carry 30, 60 or even 100 rounds, serve little purpose other than to fire as many bullets as quickly as possible without having to reload as often,” Mitchell said. “What purpose, other than shooting a large amount of people, does that serve?”
Andy Lippstone, counsel to Gov. Jack Markell, who proposed the bill in January, said HB 58 would not prevent the next mass shooting, but it could limit the number of victims.
Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, testified in favor of the bill. Goddard, 27, said he was shot four times and still has three bullets lodged in his body.
“Delaware has limited the number of bullets people can use when hunting to six rounds in order to help protect wildlife. It makes sense to limit the number of bullets you can use in everyday society to protect people,” Goddard said. “Reloading provides an opportunity to potential victims to escape or defend themselves.”
Mitchell said the bill includes exceptions for active and retired law enforcement personnel and licensed dealers.
Committee member and House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, asked why citizens with concealed carry permits were not also exempt under the bill.
Committee member and House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said concealed carry permits are approved for some people who have been convicted of crimes. Mitchell said the process of getting a concealed carry permit could be flawed, but he would be open to amending the bill to include more exemptions.
A number of law enforcement officers testified in favor of the bill, saying it would protect police. Fred Calhoun, president of Delaware Fraternal Order of Police, said, “It’s a matter of when the next officer gets killed in the line of duty in the state of Delaware,” he said. “It’s going to make our officers safer out there.”
Several religious leaders and medical professionals also testified in favor of the bill. But the majority of citizens attended the hearing to testify against the measure. Many of the bills opponents said standard clips hold more than 10 rounds. Other citizens testified HB 58 infringed on their Second Amendment rights.
Janis Chester, a psychiatrist, said the bill goes against both the Delaware and U.S. Constitution.
She also said when facing an assailant, police often miss their target. “They have to go through more than one magazine,” she said. Chester said an average citizen faced with a similar threat would likely need more rounds than a trained police officer, not less, especially if there was more than one assailant.
Shannon Alfred, Delaware liaison for the National Rifle Association, said most commonly owned guns come with a higher magazine capacity than the bill would allow. “There are tens of millions of magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds,” she said.
Alfred also said it was incorrect to assume the bill, if passed, would reduce the number of high-capacity magazines over time. “Magazines don’t deteriorate. They are not disposable,” she said.
To read HB 58, go to delaware.gov.