Delaware offers cash to owners of newly illegal large-capacity gun magazines

A close-up of two different kinds of gun magazines.

A 30-round magazine, left, and a 10-round magazine, right, rest below an AR-15 rifle. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

When Delaware lawmakers and Gov. John Carney banned gun magazines that hold more than 17 bullets in June, the law authorized the state to compensate owners for their now-illegal devices.

While Second Amendment advocates are planning to sue over the ban, as they have with a new law outlawing assault-style weapons, the state this week released what officials call a “fair market” offer to buy the newly outlawed magazines. It’s an offer that could change depending on feedback from the public.

The proposal by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, published in the state Register of Regulations, depends on the size and type of the magazines.

The state’s offer includes:

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  • Up to $15 for a magazine that holds 18 to 30 rounds
  • A maximum of $25 for ones that hold more than 31 rounds
  • No more than $80 for drums that can carry up to 100 rounds

The money would be paid in cash or a gift card, and would only be available for Delaware residents with functioning magazines. Businesses, manufacturers, and distributors would not be eligible. The new ban exempts law enforcement officers, including some retired ones, and people with concealed carry permits.

Officials urge anyone who has large-capacity magazines to store them in a safe place until they surrender the device. To return them, people would have to show proof of Delaware residency at the time of redemption. Those who surrender magazines anonymously would not be eligible for the money.

Comments on the program should be sent via email to Homeland Security official Terry Pepper. Feedback will be accepted until Oct. 3, and then the rules will be finalized. The state plans to host so-called “buyback events’’ in each county starting in mid-November, Homeland Security spokesman Arshan Howard said this week.

Lawmakers allocated $45,000 in the state budget to the program, which officials want to complete by June 30, when the fiscal year ends.

Jeff Hague, president of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, which sued over the assault-style weapons ban, said the group’s lawsuit over the large-capacity magazine ban is being finalized while lawyers await the outcome of other court rulings involving firearms.

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Hague also bristled at the state calling the program a “buyback” in a news release this week.

“My first question is, how can the government buy back something they never owned to begin with?” he asked.

Hague said his club for hunters and shooting enthusiasts believes the ban is not only unconstitutional but won’t prevent mass shootings.

“It’s not going to reduce the number of criminals using firearms in the commission of felonies,” Hague said. “It’s only going to affect law-abiding citizens because criminals aren’t going to turn in something that’s their livelihood to get money. Or if they do, they’re going to turn them in and get some money and then go buy another one.”

Lawmakers who supported the measure differ. Citing the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, they point out that large-capacity magazines have been involved in America’s 10 deadliest shootings over the last decade, and that mass shootings where the gunman used a large-capacity magazine have resulted in twice as many fatalities as those where a smaller magazine was used.

“There is no logical reason for the average person to be able to fire 20, 30, or 100 bullets without the need to reload,’’ said Rep. Larry Mitchell, a Democrat and former police officer who serves as House Majority Whip.

“Limiting the number of rounds a person can fire at once is another piece of the puzzle to reduce gun violence without impacting a person’s right to own or use a firearm,” Mitchell said. “I’ve seen firsthand how gun violence can tear apart families and the dangerous implications of large-capacity magazines.”

At least nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning large-capacity magazines, including New York, New Jersey, and Maryland — all of which set their cap on magazine capacity at 10 rounds, Mitchell said.

Mitch Denham of the 23,000-member Facebook group Delaware Gun Rights is urging owners of 17-plus-round magazines to store them safely pending the outcome of the looming court challenge.

“When the lawsuits are over then maybe you can talk about what you think is right for you,’’ said Denham, who is exempted from the ban because he has a concealed carry permit.

Denham also questioned the state’s characterization of the offer as a “fair market” one, saying some owners paid far more for specialty or higher-quality magazines than what the state wants to pay.

Delaware Gun Rights’ president Mitch Denham (far right in yellow shirt at Legislative Hall rally) says a legal challenge to some measures is guaranteed. (Courtesy of Mitch Denham)

A former car salesman, Denham said the state offer equates to an auto dealer offering the same amount for vehicles with no regard for their quality.

“It’s more like we’re going to give you Honda Civic prices, even though you have a 1969 440 Roadrunner,’’ Denham said. “It’s not even the same class of thing.”

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