Delaware lawmakers vote to close gun sale loophole

(AP Photo/Philip Kamrass

(AP Photo/Philip Kamrass

Delaware lawmakers voted in favor of a bill to close gun sale loopholes.

The Delaware General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that will close a loophole in the state’s gun laws that potentially gives dangerous individuals access to guns.

Legislators say the current loophole allows guns to be sold to a potential purchaser if the background check is delayed for at least three days. The reason for delay could be due to a red flag on the person’s record, but they could still receive the weapon nonetheless.

The legislation, sponsored by State Representatives Edward Osienski, D-Newark, and Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, and State Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, would close the loophole by requiring sellers to delay sales until the FBI clears the purchase or if the background check hasn’t returned after 25 days.

“It’s been a bit of a struggle, but we got there and now I feel a lot safer people prohibited won’t be getting those weapons,” said Osienski, the main sponsor of the legislation.

The FBI reports between 2010 and 2014 there were 15,729 gun sale transactions nationwide to ineligible individuals during the delayed transaction period. According to the FBI, investigations into whether an ineligible person has been sold a gun by default takes about 25 days.

Legislators say in the last three years in Delaware, law enforcement had to retrieve firearms from 43 prohibited individuals who slipped through the loophole.

The demand for tighter gun control in the United States has been heightened in recent weeks, following a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub killing 49 victims.

But mass shootings like the one in Orlando, or the Sandy Hook shootings, are rare compared to the amount of individuals who die from gun violence, accidents and suicide each year in the United States. The FBI reports there were 8,124 individuals who died from gunshot wounds in the United States in 2014.

Gun deaths in countries in Europe and Asia where guns are illegal or have tight gun laws are much rarer—the New York Times reports the likelihood of being shot in some countries is the equivalent of being struck by lightning in the U.S.

Osienski’s original legislation proposed 30 days, but on Tuesday the General Assembly passed a Senate amendment, making it 25 days.

Townsend, who introduced the amendment, said 25 days was the number his colleagues felt was appropriate for the legislation.

“There are some people who believe there should be no limitations whatsoever. You want a reasonable amount of a time to make sure the government completes a background check as quickly as possible,” Townsend said.

“I think there are concerns for any situation, there are always concerns and that’s what makes the gridlock in D.C. and in Delaware very sad because there are reasonable [choices] we can make.”

Osienski said the 30 day period would have assured a prohibited individual had no chance of purchasing a weapon because federal law requires a potential buyer to reapply after 30 days. He said he believes the amendment was a compromise as some legislators were concerned about law-abiding Delawareans who might have to reapply.

But Osienski said he’s satisfied with the amendment, and believes it will help eliminate the amount of prohibited individuals purchasing guns.

“I think we need to do everything possible to make sure we keep guns out of hands of those who are prohibited,” he said. “We all agree on background checks. The fact there was that loophole after three days was disturbing—so I think it’s a common sense gun control bill.”

A House amendment was added to the legislation in April, making qualified current and former law enforcement officers exempt from the waiting period.

The votes in April and on Tuesday night were almost exactly divided down party lines. The legislation with the new amendment passed in the Senate Tuesday with 12 in favor and nine opposed—with only one Republican, Catherine Cloutier, R-Heatherbrooke, voting in favor, and only one Democrat, Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, voting no.

When the amended bill moved back into the House following the Senate vote it passed 21 to 18, close to its original vote of 22 to 17 in April. Both times four Democrats voted unfavorably, while only one Republican, Stephen Smyk, R-Milton, voted in favor of the bill.

The favorable votes came just one day after four gun control bills in the U.S. Senate were defeated—and Osienski’s bill wasn’t without a fight.

Senators voted on several amendments Tuesday, and just like the vote on the bill itself, most were practically partisan. Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel, introduced four defeated amendments, including exempting gunsmiths from needing a background check to return firearms to clients, and allowing a prohibited person to seek an appeal.

Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, only received support from four senators on his amendment to bring the proposed 30 days down to seven, even though he said it would “more than double” the current period, which he felt was a “reasonable compromise.”

Republicans said they were concerned the legislation would cause law abiding citizens to wait extended periods for their guns.  

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said some of his constituents’ background checks have been put on hold simply because they share a name with another person who has a criminal record.

“We have a lot of Smiths, we have a lot of Robins—a lot of people with the more common names are always delayed,” he said. “A right delayed is a right denied.”

Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, turned the table on the media, asking how members of the press would feel if they had to wait 25 days to express their first amendment rights. He said he believes this is a Democratic agenda to take guns away from innocent people.

“I think this is another incremental threat we shouldn’t endorse,” Bonini said. “I don’t own a firearm, but I can read the second amendment. And I take those things very seriously.”

Democrats argued the legislation isn’t extending the wait period for law-abiding citizens—it’s simply preventing prohibited individuals from receiving firearms before their background check is cleared.

Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, said 92 percent of all gun applicants are approved immediately—but that 8 percent are usually individuals prohibited from carrying a weapon. She said she believes the bill doesn’t deny rights, but protects individuals from gun violence.

“We have rights too,” Peterson said. “We have rights to be safe from people who shouldn’t have access to guns.”

Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said he assumed most adult women in the room were at the protection of a gun, and want a firearm for self-defense. He said he’s not “being sexist,” but believes men have a responsibility to protect women who can’t protect themselves, including domestic violence survivors.

“I don’t know how you’re going to protect yourself if you can’t get a weapon,” Simpson said. “Most women are approved in the three day time period, but what about the women who aren’t approved in the three day time period?”

Townsend denounced Simpson’s beliefs that guns protect domestic violence victims.

“We know having short default times has led to the transfer of firearms to people with domestic violence incidents,” he said. “This legislation reduces the [possibility] a person uses a firearm against the women Simpson talks about.”

Peterson said she’s received four death threats during her 22 years in office, and feels safer with dogs in the house than guns, which she said could be used against the owner rather than the intruder.

 “Unless you’re going to strap on your holster and go to Christiana Mall you’re not going to have a gun on you anyway,” she said. “They don’t always take place in the house, and even if they do your guns are locked in your bedroom. This notion women need to arm up…that’s fine if they want them, but please don’t use women as an excuse for this bill.”

Townsend said he believes the legislation is an important step for public safety in Delaware as residents demand action for reasonable gun laws. Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, is expected to sign the legislation Wednesday.

“Delaware should be a place we can come together on these issue,” Townsend said. “Elected officials all across the country should not wait for tragedy to strike in their jurisdiction before they act.” 


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