Carney signs bill requiring guns to be stored safely away from children

Delaware Governor John Carney (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Delaware Governor John Carney (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Democratic Gov. John Carney signed legislation Thursday requiring safe storage of firearms, a measure that expands upon the current Delaware offense of providing minors access to guns.

The new law will allow charges against gun owners who intentionally or recklessly leave loaded firearms in reach of children, as well as adults who are prohibited due to criminal or mental-health history.

The legislation is the only gun-safety measure to reach the governor’s desk this year.

Three other bills, seeking to ban assault weapons, limit magazines to 15 rounds, and require training and a state permit for gun owners, were not released from a Senate committee this session.

“I had hoped to sign more of a package and, of course, the session’s not over, we have another month to go and have a couple pieces of legislation we’re still working on, it is a little late for sure, but this is just the first session of this General Assembly,” Carney said.

“But this is an important piece of legislation to sign to add to the package last year, the red-flag legislation that was really important to keep firearms away from people with serious mental health issues or showing potentially violent behavior. Those pieces in addition to this are a nice package.”

The legislation signed Thursday only passed in the Senate following an amendment that shifts the burden of proof from the gun owner to the state. It requires a prosecutor prove a person failed in several ways to properly store a gun.

State Rep. Sean Lynn, (D-Dover), a sponsor of the measure, said this week that he didn’t agree with the amendment because “trying to ‘prove a negative’ is a very unusual requirement to place on the prosecution,” but he added that it was critical to pass the legislation.

Proponents say the new law will prevent accidents and suicides. A recent New York Times article cited federal statistics and other data showing that of the 14,000 children who died from guns in the last decade, more than a third died by suicide and 6% in accidents. In youth suicides, a parent owned the gun three-quarters of the time.

“We do have tragic loss, but also gun-ownership rights, and I think we did a good job with balancing those issues because it does start with safe-gun ownership. The folks who are going to own a weapon have to do it responsibly,” said Robert Coupe, secretary of Delaware’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Sarah Stowens of Moms Demand Action said her group will continue to fight for common sense gun-safety measures.

“As I think about our Virginia Beach community, as they reel from the 150th mass shooting in 2019, which boggles the mind, I really hope to prevent tragedy from happening,” Stowens said. “With a month left in session, I’m not sure what the legislators are willing or able to do, but I do know we will be holding our legislators accountable and ensuring they remember they made promises and those promises need to be kept.”

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