Delaware gun owners will be legally obligated to report lost or stolen firearms under legislation that passed the General Assembly May 14.
In a narrow vote of 22-19, representatives approved Senate Bill 16; senators approved the bill 11-10, May 2. Gov. Jack Markell has pledged to sign SB 16 into law in the near future.
The measure requires gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm to police within seven days of discovering the weapon is missing. Violators will be subject to a fine of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second offense. A third offense will be considered a felony.
The bill is one of five gun-control measures Markell announced in January – a month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. House Bill 35, to expand background checks for most private firearm purchases, was signed into law May 8.
Lt. Thomas Brackin, president of the Delaware State Troopers Association, testified in favor of the bill before the House vote. He said the legislation would aid police investigations and improve officer safety.
“Most criminals, once apprehended, will talk,” he said. “Many times, they will tell us where they got that firearm.”
Brackin said if a gun is reported stolen in Kent County, then a violent crime occurs in Dover, the investigating officer could have a better idea of the suspect. “If the law abiding citizen had reported the firearm…the officer from Dover has a quick starting point,” he said.
Brackin said the bill would also give officers a better idea of whether a suspect is armed.
House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, voted against the bill. He said criminals would lie to skirt being charged for the straw purchase, but a law-abiding citizen could be charged when they genuinely do not realize a gun is missing.
Brackin said the bill incentivizes gun owners to keep stock of their weapons, but police are not seeking to charge law-abiding citizens under the bill. “Law enforcement is reasonable,” he said.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, was the only Sussex County representative who voted in favor of SB 16. Reps. Short; John Atkins, D-Millsboro; Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown; Harvey Kenton, R-Milford; Steve Smyk, R-Milton; Ron Gray, R-Selbyville; Tim Dukes, R-Laurel; and Dave Wilson, R-Lincoln, all voted against the measure.