Ban on assault-style weapons gets Del. Gov. John Carney’s signature, along with other gun bills

Anti-gun violence advocates cheered as Gov. John Carney signed a package of six bills designed to reduce the threat of gun violence in Delaware.

Delaware Gov. John Carney signs a package of gun safety bills. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Delaware Gov. John Carney signs a package of gun safety bills. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

A sizable crowd gathered inside and outside Gov. John Carney’s office in Dover Thursday afternoon as he signed a package of six gun related bills.

Inside the ceremonial office were legislative leaders and other elected officials as well as advocates for more restrictions on access to guns from Moms Demand Action and the Delaware State Education Association. Several dozen opponents of the measure gathered in the halls and stairwell outside the office, chanting for Carney not to sign the legislation.

The bills were rapidly approved by the General Assembly following several mass shootings in recent weeks including the deaths of 21 at a school in Uvalde, Texas, and a racist attack at a Buffalo grocery store that killed 13.

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The legislation signed by Carney aims to keep similar incidents from happening in the First State. The bills include:

  • A ban on the sale of assault-style weapons;
  • An increase in the age to purchase most firearms from 18 to 21;
  • Strengthened background checks through reinstituting the Fire Arm Transaction Approval Program;
  • New limits on high-capacity magazines
  • Holding gun manufacturers and dealers liable for reckless or negligent actions that lead to gun violence;
  • A ban on the use of devices that convert handguns into fully automatic weapons.

“We have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent tragedies like we’ve seen around the country from happening here in Delaware,” Carney said.

Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence executive director Traci Murphy said she’s pleased to see the bills signed, but added that the work does not stop with legislative advocacy. “We also do electoral work, and we make sure that the people we are electing are committed to enacting tough policies,” she said.

She said the coalition is not anti-gun. “We are anti-gun violence. We have gun owners on our board … We recognize that safe and responsible gun owners are often the bedrock of communities,” Murphy said. “But what we also recognize is that rights come with responsibilities. And we feel like Delaware is becoming a leader in responsible gun ownership and a real leader in the work to end gun violence.”

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Opponents think otherwise.

Brent Burdge of Wilmington displays his sign in protest to the passing of legislation outside of Gov. John Carney’s office. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Parents like Caroll Hall and Tom Hall say that the right to bear arms has been taken away from them and their children.

Hall said her daughter has been working as a senior shooting instructor at Camp Rodney ever since she graduated from high school. She said under the new law increasing the minimum age to buy a gun, she would not have been able to do that. She claimed the issue with school shootings starts at home.

“We need to get off of our phones. We need to teach them about gun safety … Get to know them, see them. So many kids are not being seen in schools. They’re being bullied,” Hall said. “They’re going to their administrators. Their administrators don’t know how to handle it. Trust me, I know that firsthand. Being a PTA member. I saw it time and time again. Connect with your children.”

Mariah Moore, a mother of four, said she wasn’t happy that Carney signed the bills, but said she’ll continue to fight. She argued that better mental health screenings and a greater emphasis on threats would do more to keep Delawareans safe. When it comes to school shootings, “they don’t want schools to be gun zones. But who do they call when a bad guy comes into a school with a gun? People with guns,” Moore said.

Governor Carney said Delaware won’t wait to do what’s right to stop gun violence. He pointed to red flag legislation that took effect in 2018. He said that the law has proven effective and he’s optimistic that this package of bills will do the same.

“This package also represents, I think, another part of our political culture, which is people from both sides of this building coming together to get meaningful things done,” he said.

One measure that didn’t get into the package was a bill that would require handgun buyers to first obtain a permit and pass a firearms training and safety course.

Earlier this month, State House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said various issues he declined to identify have sidelined the bill, but that House members would “work on it to get a better version for January,” when the General Assembly reconvenes. “I think they can put it together so it will pass.”

Mara Gorman of Moms Demand Action noted, however, that Democrats control the House 26-15, and a gun permit law is part of the state party’s platform.

Thirteen other states, including Delaware neighbors New Jersey and Maryland, have such a requirement.

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