Both sides of gun control debate mobilized for Delaware races

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(At left) Members of Mom Demand Action pose with Democratic lawmakers and candidates; (right), Delaware Gun Rights members man a table at a recent gun show. Founder Mitch Denham is at far right of photo. (Cris Barrish/WHYY; Courtesy of Mitch Denham)

(At left) Members of Mom Demand Action pose with Democratic lawmakers and candidates; (right), Delaware Gun Rights members man a table at a recent gun show. Founder Mitch Denham is at far right of photo. (Cris Barrish/WHYY; Courtesy of Mitch Denham)

Delaware’s 2018 legislative season was dominated in large part by Gov. John Carney’s quest to reform the state’s gun laws in the wake of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Florida’s Stoneman Douglass High School.

A few bills passed, such as a ban on bump stocks and restricting firearm access to people considered a danger by family, police or mental health professionals.

Others stalled, including a ban on assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Moms Demand Action supports stronger gun control legislation. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

During the legislative debates advocates on both sides rallied in Dover and descended on lawmakers to voice their opinions. Now they have turned their sights to influencing upcoming state and local elections.

The fervent advocacy of gun control supporters was on display on a recent Saturday morning in the northwestern suburb of Hockessin.

Moms Demand Action rallied around about a dozen Democratic candidates who share their goal: putting more restrictions on gun ownership.

One was Attorney General nominee Kathy Jennings. She’s a veteran prosecutor and defense attorney who has dealt extensively with the gun carnage in Wilmington.

“Delaware has been able to, through the hard work of many legislators, to pass sensible gun safety measures. But we are not there yet,’’ Jennings told the crowd. “And we can only end this violence if we all work together to change the makeup for our legislature and makeup of our leaders in our state.”

Sarah Stowens, who heads the Delaware chapter of Mom’s Demand Action, said she wasn’t disappointed with the failure of some parts of the Democratic governor’s agenda but has volunteers fanning across the state to help elect more legislators with similar views.

Mitch Denham, who founded Delaware Gun Rights, supported Kevin Christophel in the Republican primary for a Sussex County Council seat. (Courtesy of Mitch Denham)

“We are a nonpartisan group,’’ Stowens said. “We have Republicans and Democrats who have earned distinction statewide and nationally. We canvass. We do phone banks. We show up at events. We just really want to support people who want to support common sense legislation.”

In addition, the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence surveyed candidates for the General Assembly and posted the responses for both the House and the Senate on its website.

Mitch Denham of Delaware Gun Rights said his group also wants sensible laws as long as they don’t “infringe” on residents’ constitutional right to bear arms. Denham thinks Carney’s initiatives have gone too far, and started a Facebook group.

Denham is rallying the faithful to turn out in force so their collective voice is heard on Nov. 6.

“We’re trying to help people pick candidates and help people get out the vote,’’ Denham said. “And helping the candidates with the election as far as getting people out to vote and to door knock and man the polls.”

“We’re trying to get involves so we can influence Legislative Hall so we don’t have to use our vacation days sitting outside the building.”

Denham also stressed that while he and fellow members are vehemently opposed to the ban on assault-style weapons, they aren’t automatically against all legislation.

“I’m not mad about the bump stocks thing,’’ Denham said. “Most actual shooters, people who shoot targets or shoot for fun or shoot for competition — they don’t’ want one. It’s a novelty item like a joy buzzer or a whoopee cushion.”

Once the election settled, though, there is one certainty. The debates over gun ownership are sure to begin anew in the General Assembly.

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