Delaware Governor Jack Markell revealed a package of five measures designed to prevent gun violence in the state in reaction to last month’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
Markell marked the one month anniversary of the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history by taking the wraps off his agenda to reduce gun violence. He expects plenty of debate over these measures in the General Assembly.
“I respect the 2nd Amendment, but the measures that we propose today are entirely constitutional,” he said.
Markell pledged that no member of his administration would question the intentions of any lawmaker who disagrees with his agenda. “I expect a robust debate, but I believe this is not a debate about the 2nd Amendment.”
The agenda includes background checks for all gun sales. Markell says 60 percent of gun sales happen with licensed dealers and the requisite background checks, but that means 40 percent of sales are between private citizens, sales that don’t require background checks. Markell says a system that doesn’t check four out of 10 gun purchases is a system that is broken.
“In Delaware, over the past seven years, about 3,500 applications for gun transfers or permits were denied because the applicant failed a background check. There’s nothing to stop those applicants from obtaining a gun if they choose to purchase from someone other than a licensed dealer.” State Rep. Valerie Longhurst will sponsor the background check bill.
Reporting lost or stolen guns
In an effort to help police track guns used in crimes, Markell wants to implement a mandatory reporting requirement for lost or stolen weapons. He says all too often police questioning a gun owner about why their gun was at the scene of a crime, only to have the owner say the gun had been stolen some time ago. Quoting a 2002 study, Markell says 1.7 million firearms were stolen from 1993 to 2002. He says more than one million of those guns were still missing as of the time of the study. Almost 300 guns were reported stolen in Delaware last year.
Currently, gun owners have no requirement to report lost or stolen weapons. “Without mandatory reporting, there’s very little the police can do when an owner says, ‘I lost my gun,’ even if they suspect the owner really sold it to a criminal,” Markell said.
Under Markell’s plan, gun owners would have 48 hours to report a loss or stolen gun. Seven other states and the District of Columbia have similar requirements. State Senator Margaret Rose Henry will be the prime sponsor of this bill.
Ban on large magazines
Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn presented the third piece of the gun agenda, a ban on the sale, purchase, transfer or delivery of a large-capacity magazine. Denn says a study of 30 mass shootings in the U.S. over the past 40 years showed a common denominator — large-capacity magazines. “It is the essential piece of equipment for a criminal who wants to shoot a lot of people,” Denn said.
Denn says it is often when gunmen have to reload that police or someone else are able to intervene to stop a mass shooting. He says reducing the number of bullets in a magazine would require a shooter to reload more often and create more opportunities for intervention.
Specifically, the legislation would limit magazines to 10 bullets for handguns and 5 bullets for a rifle or shotgun.
Assault weapons ban
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden outlined the final two parts of the agenda, and maybe the most controversial. That includes the fourth part of the plan which calls for a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons that were designed for military use and equipped with military features.
Biden, who served in the Delaware National Guard for a tour of duty in Iraq, says that’s where those types of weapons are useful, not here on the streets of Delaware. “The military-style weapon that is assigned to me resides in an armory under lock and key because it’s needed only in one place, and that is Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. He says they are weapons of mass destruction that are meant for battle.
Biden admits that getting the assault weapons ban will be a fight. “This will not be a Democrats versus Republican issue,” he said. “I stand here before you saying it does not infringe upon the 2nd Amendment, which I strongly believe in.”
No guns near schools
The fifth point in the plan would ban the possession of a gun within 1,000 feet of a school. “We need to do more to protect our students, especially when there’s a discussion about arming more people in our schools,” Biden said. People who live near schools would be exempt from the prohibition while on their own private property.
Biden says this measure would create a safe school zone and give parents more peace of mind when dropping off their children at school that they will not become the next victims of gun violence.
Markell said the state also needs to address the way it helps young people struggling with mental illness and improve school safety. He plans to cover those topics in more detail in this Thursday’s State of the State Address.