A ban on sales of AR-15 rifles and other assault style weapons in Delaware will soon become law.
The measure aimed at preventing massacres like the one last month that killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, completed its passage through both chambers of the General Assembly on Thursday when the Senate approved it 13-8.
All Republicans voted no. The only Democrat who voted no was Bruce Ennis of Smyrna.
Delaware will become the eighth state to have such a prohibition. Delaware neighbors New Jersey and Maryland have one, but Pennsylvania does not. Delaware’s bill is modeled on the law in Maryland.
In addition, the House on Thursday approved a 17-round limit on ammunition magazine sizes. The Senate had approved that bill last week.
Gov. John Carney has said unequivocally that he will sign those two gun control measures and four others now moving through the Legislature. The governor’s fellow Democrats, who control both chambers, say they have enough support to pass them before the legislative session ends June 30.
The bills have passed mostly along party lines, with almost all Democrats in support and most Republicans against.
Those four pending bills would:
- Raise the age to buy and possess almost all firearms and ammunition to 21. The current law allows people at least 18 years old to have rifles and other long-guns, but the minimum age to buy a handgun is 21.
- Expand background checks to purchase a firearm to include state databases that can flag whether someone has a misdemeanor domestic violence crime on their record. That so-called red flag would not turn up on a check of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System currently used in Delaware unless it was flagged as a domestic violence offense.
- Strip the immunity gun dealers and manufacturers have in Delaware from civil liability if they knowingly or recklessly take actions that endanger the health and safety of the public.
- Ban the use of so-called “Glock switches” and other devices, that essentially convert semi-automatic weapons into machine guns that can fire up to 1,200 rounds a minute.
Proponents of banning sales of assault-style weapons have pointed out at committee hearings and legislative sessions that the shooter in Uvalde would not have been able to slaughter so many people — some beyond recognition — if he had not been able to purchase two AR-style rifles days earlier on his 18th birthday. Authorities have also reported that the suspect had several 30-round magazines inside the classroom at Robb Elementary School the day the 21 people were killed.
Opponents have countered that banning some of the more than 60 assault-style weapons included in the bill would harm hunters and target shooters who use them. They also said the bill penalizes law-abiding gun owners and violates the constitutional right to bear arms.
Other foes have said raising the age to 21 to purchase and possess all firearms except shotguns and muzzle-loading rifles would endanger women who are the target of domestic abuse, as well as people ages 18 to 20 who want a firearm to protect their homes and families.
‘As much death imaginable in as little time as possible’
Much of the lengthy Senate debate on Thursday focused on details of the weapons being banned and how the current owner of one would be able to prove they obtained it legally to escape felony prosecution.
Sen. Nichole Poore, a Bear Democrat and sponsor of the assault-style weapons ban, said she agreed with opponents that the bill is reactionary because she and other supporters are disgusted by massacres that keep occurring elsewhere with assault-style weapons and want to prevent one from happening in Delaware.
She also pointed out that residents who already own an assault-style won’t have to surrender them, and that she supports the Second Amendment.
“But I also believe our families have a right to attend elementary school, to go to college, to attend church, to shop at the grocery store, and to visit a movie theater without the threat of a gunman committing mass murder in a matter of minutes,’’ Poore said.
“These beliefs are not incompatible. Time and time again, our courts have ruled that our Second Amendment rights are not absolute, and we can take steps to protect our families by limiting access to the most destructive and deadly weapons on the market.
“What is not compatible to me is sitting on our hands and doing nothing while children across our country are being torn apart by the kind of high powered weapons that exist to serve only one single purpose. AK-47s are not made for hunting. AR-15s are not made for target shooting and Uzis are not made for self-defense. These are weapons of war, specifically designed to sow as much death imaginable in as little time as possible. And right now, they are so easy to buy, so readily available, that children are picking them up at their local sporting goods store on their way to murder other children.’’
Republican Sen. Gerald Hocker, who represents southeastern beach towns of Bethany, Fenwick, and nearby areas, said the legislation would make criminals out of solid citizens.
He said the weapons on the banned list have not been used in shootings in Delaware, and that more focus on school safety would prohibit the kind of carnage seen in Uvalde.
“The mass shootings were really done by violent criminals,’’ he said of mass killings in recent years. “There’s not one of them that didn’t break the law. What makes you think they’re not going to break this law if it’s passed here today?”
Instead, he said Poore and other supporters of the ban will only end up punishing “good, law abiding citizens … I don’t think you really think that this is going to keep guns from the hands of criminals.”