Delaware Senate panel hears divided opinions on gun regulation proposals

Opponents say they fear abridgement of their Second Amendment rights; supporters say they fear another mass shooting. Lawmakers may send three proposals to full Senate.

A hearing at the Delaware State Capitol over three gun-control bills attracted a large turnout on Wednesday. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

A hearing at the Delaware State Capitol over three gun-control bills attracted a large turnout on Wednesday. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

The gun debate continued in Delaware Wednesday as dozens of concerned residents weighed in on three proposed gun safety measures during a legislative committee.

The Senate Executive Committee heard two hours of comments from opponents and supporters of the legislation that aims to reduce gun violence. The meeting was extended by an hour, and still wasn’t enough time to grant everyone in the crowd a chance to speak.

The measures sponsored by Democratic lawmakers aim to eliminate the sale and import of assault-style weapons; end the sale of magazines that hold more than 15 rounds; and require prospective gun buyers to first get a permit from the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Gun rights supporters, who argued the measures infringe on the “Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” said they feared they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves if the bills become law. Those who favor the added regulations say they would help get guns out of the hands of criminals, prevent mass shootings, and decrease other gun violence.

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The ban on assault-style weapons would prohibit the sale of about 60 types of guns in Delaware, including AK-47s, AR-15s and UZIs. Police and military personnel would be exempt from the prohibition, and those who currently legally own those firearms would be able to keep them.  

The legislation to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines focuses on those capable of holding more than 15 rounds. The bill would create a buyback program for existing high-capacity magazines giving owners until June 2020 to hand them over.

The legislation requiring a permit from the state mirrors similar efforts in other states, including New Jersey. Applicants would be required to complete a firearm training course; submit information similar to what can be found on a driver’s license; and have their fingerprints run through state and federal criminal databases. The information would be reported to law enforcement to streamline the process of investigating gun crimes.

Committee member state Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, said he has too many unanswered questions about the consequences of the legislation.

“Being a gun dealer, this could put a lot of gun dealers out of business,” he said. “I have a concern about the constitutionality also.”

Hocker also said the length of the hearing was inadequate to fully address his concerns.

“To give three very important gun bills only two hours and hear them all together was totally wrong,” he said.

State Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the bills advance public safety while still abiding by the Constitution.

“With the permit purchase bill, it’s very much about providing safety and training. Also trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who are (obtaining them for) nefarious purposes. You can still purchase firearms subject to the permitting process,” he said. “With the assault weapons ban, courts across the country have upheld those firearms are not part of the Second Amendment or if they can be banned for certain reasons.

“We don’t want a mass shooting to happen here,” he said. “We’ve seen enough carnage and tragedy around our country … these bills deserve a debate now. They deserve a vote now.”  

The committee must now decide whether to release the bills to the floor for a vote.

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