Democrats eye host of gun-control bills in Delaware

June 2, 2022 GMT

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers in Delaware have introduced legislation outlawing the sale or possession of a wide variety of semiautomatic firearms and prohibiting anyone under age 21 from buying a firearm.

The bills are part of a package of gun restrictions proposed Thursday with the support of Democratic Gov. John Carney in the wake of recent mass shootings in Texas and New York that left more than 30 children and adults dead.

Democrats also are pushing for fast passage of existing legislation to limit high-capacity magazines and to return control of criminal background checks for gun purchases to state law enforcement officials. They also plan to introduce legislation to hold firearm manufacturers and dealers liable for “reckless or negligent” actions that lead to gun violence.

“We have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent tragedies like we’ve seen across the country from happening here in Delaware,” Carney said in prepared statement. “This is a historic, meaningful package of legislation and I look forward to seeing these bills on my desk this session.”

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This year’s legislative session ends June 30.

The ban on what lawmakers described as “assault weapons” targets more than 60 specific models of semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns, as well as “copycat weapons.” That term applies to any semiautomatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and has two additional features, such as a folding stock or pistol grip, and to any semiautomatic shotgun with a folding stock.

The legislation, sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, is similar to other bills that Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to pass in recent years. The bill would not prohibit the possession, transport or transfer to a family member of a targeted firearm that was lawfully possessed or bought before the law’s effective date. It would, however, restrict possession to the gunowner’s property, other private property with that property owner’s consent, and to shooting ranges.

It does include an exception for attendance at “any exhibition, display, or educational project” sponsored or authorized by a law enforcement agency or recognized entity that promotes education about firearms. It’s unclear whether that exception would allow the display of legally owned firearms at gun rights rallies or other public venues.

The bill also includes exemptions for retired police officers, armored car guards and military personnel.

The age-restriction bill, sponsored by House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, would prohibit the possession or purchase of any rifle or firearm ammunition by a person under 21. It does not apply to shotguns or muzzleloaders, and allow possession of a firearm by a person under 21 for hunting or other recreational activity while under the direct supervision of a person 21 or older. It also exempts police officers, active members of the military, and holders of concealed-carry permits. That means, for example, that a 19-year-old airman stationed at Dover Air Force Base could go to a Delaware gun shop and buy a rifle, but a 19-year-old working at a local business could not.

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The two bills will be heard Wednesday in the House Administration Committee, chaired by Longhurst, with a floor vote on the semiautomatic ban on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a bill limiting firearms magazines to no more than 17 rounds passed the Senate last year but has remained stalled in the General Assembly after the House approved an amendment allowing 20 rounds for handguns and 30 rounds for long guns. The bill is now on the Senate agenda for Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, a House committee is scheduled to consider bipartisan legislation that would put state law enforcement officials in charge of background checks for gun purchases. The bill would resurrect Delaware’s Firearm Transaction Approval Program, which was eliminated more than a decade ago when lawmakers voted to rely on the federal government’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

Meanwhile, Democratic Attorney General Kathy Jennings and other gun-control advocates are calling for passage of a bill requiring anyone in Delaware who wants to buy a handgun to first be fingerprinted, undergo an approved training course and obtain permission from the state. The bill cleared the Senate last year but has remained stalled in a House committee since last June.