By a 13-8 vote June 16, the Delaware Senate passed a ban on the sale of assault weapons, and the measure will now head to Gov. John Carney to be signed into law.
The bill was one of six in a package aimed at tightening gun regulations in light of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The assault weapons ban and a measure intended to strengthen background checks had previously passed the House. Both the House and Senate passed a bill June 16 to prohibit the manufacture, sale, offer for sale, purchase, receipt, transfer or possession of an ammunition-feeding device with a capacity to accept more than 17 rounds of ammunition.
Another bill that would raise the age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21 with exceptions for law enforcement, military personnel and people with concealed carry permits was tabled and awaits further action.
Three other bills – one to ban machine guns, another allowing victims of gun violence to sue gun manufacturers and retailers, and a third providing an exception to a bill that would ban large-capacity magazines – passed the Senate.
The most controversial of the bills was HB 450 to ban assault weapons. It prohibits the sale of 63 assault-style weapons, which are defined as including the likes of Uzis, AR-15s, street sweepers, AK-47s, machine pistols and a variety of semiautomatic guns. Gun owners who currently own such guns will be grandfathered in; their weapons can only be lawfully transferred to family members. There are also limited exceptions for law enforcement personnel. The bill passed the House by a 22-19 margin.
During debate in the Senate June 16, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, said the legislation was modeled after the federal assault weapons ban that was in effect from 1994 until 2004, and the list of weapons came from a similar bill that was enacted in Maryland. Both Democratic and Republican members called witnesses to bolster the cases either for or against the bill.
The most common refrain from the Republican side, echoed by Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, was that the ban would infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens and not deter criminals.
Poore responded, “In the State of Delaware, we have been so fortunate that we have not had a mass shooting. We should all be thankful. It has happened around us. We’re not standing here today saying we are banning or taking from. What we are doing is putting a pause on the sale of these weapons of war.”
During his comment portion, Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, said, “I am being lumped in with a person who killed people because I own a similar firearm. Why are we persecuting the law-abiding and let Hunter Biden go free?”
Poore rejected that comment and added, “You are absolutely misrepresenting gun owners in the State of Delaware by making that comment.”
Less testy in its passage was HB 423, which enhances background checks. The bill would create a firearm transaction approval program within the State Bureau of Identification that would serve as the state’s point of contact between federal firearms licensees and federal databases used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct background checks for gun purchases. The measure passed the House unanimously June 14 and also passed the Senate unanimously.
HB 451, which passed the House by a 27-13 vote June 14, was tabled with no date for further action scheduled yet. The bill would raise the age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, with exceptions for active military personnel or law enforcement officers and people with a license to carry a concealed deadly weapon. Those 18 years or older can also own shotguns, muzzle-loading rifles and deadly weapons other than firearms. The bill also criminalizes weapons that use compressed air or spring to discharge a pellet, slug or bullet larger than a .177 caliber shot, unless the user is a law enforcement officer.
Three bills passed by the Senate that have now been sent to the House include SB 323, sponsored by Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, which is a companion bill to another gun bill, SB 6, amended as Senate Substitute 1, which passed the upper chamber June 9 by a 13-7 vote. SB 6 passed the House by a 23-18 margin and its amended form was passed again in the Senate by a 13-8, party-line vote. The bill prohibits large-capacity magazines that can shoot more than 17 rounds of ammunition.
Pettyjohn, who voted against the measure, had previously tried to insert an amendment in that bill that would grant an exception to a Georgetown-based magazine manufacturer that produces magazines that can shoot up to 30 rounds. That amendment was voted down, but has now been brought back as its own separate bill, SB 323, which passed the Senate unanimously.
Another bill heading to the house is SB 8, which bans machine guns, defined as guns that can shoot an entire magazine with a single trigger pull. The bill also bans bump stocks, trigger-crank devices, sawed-off shotguns, and auto sears and Glock switches, which can convert a semiautomatic gun into a machine gun. The measure passed by a 13-8 vote, again along party lines.
The last of the bills, SB 302, is known as the Keshall “KeKe” Anderson Safe Firearm Sales Act, which eliminates shield laws for gun dealers. The act is named for KeKe Anderson, a bystander who was killed in 2016 in a shooting where the gun used was acquired through a straw purchase. Anderson’s family attempted to sue the firearms dealer in 2019, but their case was thrown out because Delaware law granted dealers full immunity from liability, even if the dealer was negligent in selling the firearm.
The bill allows shooting victims and their families to sue gun retailers and manufacturers, and be awarded damages if a court finds the retailer acted knowingly and recklessly in selling or manufacturing a firearm. The measure passed 13-8.
Passage of the bills was part of a very long session for the senators. Business started at 2 p.m., June 16, and went until 4 p.m. before taking a break to go into caucus. The session resumed around 6:30 p.m. and went into the early morning hours of June 17.