ShakiraWidemanGun.png

After almost five hours of deliberation, the Delaware state Senate passed two bills relating to gun control Thursday, one creating a permit-to-purchase requirement, the other banning high-capacity magazines holding more than 17 rounds in the state. 

The bills, released from committee the day prior, drew some criticism from primarily Republican opposition for the speed at which they reached the Senate floor when a 60-second cap was placed on speakers during public comment during the hearings Thursday. 

"Because of our virtual format, I don't believe we had an appropriate public opportunities for public comment on this bill," said Dover Republican Sen. Colin Bonini. "So I'm objecting to the motion to bring it to the floor."

That motioned failed, and ultimately, attempts to stop the momentum of both bills also failed, with each passing by an identical vote of 13 to 8, with Smyrna's Sen. Bruce Ennis being the only Democrat to holdout each time. But the passage did not come without the content of both pieces of legislation being discussed to exhaustion. 

Permit-to-purchase

Senate Bill 3 would create a permit-to-purchase system for gun buyers in the First State, with a requirement for fingerprinting and a set level of training achieved prior to issuance of a permit. The bill's primary sponsor, Wilmington Sen. Elizabeth "Tizzy" Lockman, described the bill's intention of making straw purchases more difficult; of giving authorities more time to ensure an interested purchaser should indeed be permitted to lawfully own a gun; of forcing interested parties to receive training to properly use the weapon; and the success similar laws have seen in other states.

Marydel Republican state Sen. Dave Lawson compared the idea to Nazi Germany and said Hitler's genocide was legal.  

"I have a real problem with looking at it from a common sense standpoint. You kill us in the womb. You kill us when we get infirmed or get old. And so, what's in the middle? I'm very, very concerned with where we're headed here," Lawson said. "Blue eyes and blonde hair going to be the preferred race by the time we're done? Are we going to go back to Hitler? Because here's the problem: Hitler was legal in what he did, and it was because of legislation, and legislators, that paved the way for that."

Several Republican senators also proposed that the legislation could in fact cost lives, particularly those of women who find themselves victims of domestic violence who would be forced to incur the additional training costs and wait-time because of those classes before a gun could be purchased. Brandywine Hundred Democratic Sen. Kyle Evans Gay asked that women not be used as pawns in a bad-faith argument. 

"I fear that women are being used as a prop in this argument, and I know that we all on this floor stand with that family and that woman who has suffered at the hands of her abuser, and that we hope and pray for her and her family and her children in particular," Gay said. "She is but one woman who represents a larger statistic...If you look at all of the deaths by gun, 91.7% of the women who were killed by guns in those high-income countries, they were killed in the United States of America; 98.1% of the children killed by guns in those high-income countries were killed in the United States of America. This bill does not discriminate against women. This is a permitting bill. This is a bill that ensures that all individuals who can purchase a gun, have demonstrated their responsibility and their capability to do so. I would ask, how many women have to die by gunshot wounds in the name of arming women to protect themselves?"

She also cited the Violence Policy Center's examination of FBI statistics found that only 5% of justified homicides were committed by a woman shooting a man, and pointed out that if concern for women was key, when Senate Bill 83 was introduced in 2015--calling for the relinquishing of firearms by those party to domestic violence protective orders--Sens. Lawson, Ennis, Ocean View's Gerald Hocker, Georgetown's Brian Pettyjohn, and Seaford's Bryant Richardson all voted against it. 

Lawson said violence comes from within, and he knows the bill won't change anything. 

"We're not doing anything to address that societal need. We're chasing a ghost. We're chasing this kind of thing for absolutely no avail," he said. "We're throwing resource after resource at it, and it's not doing any good. The violence isn't going down, it's going up. This is not going to reduce violence at all. Nothing at all."

He asked what other constitutional right had such stringent restrictions placed upon it as the need to acquire a permit. Deputy Attorney General Matthew Bloom explained the U.S. Supreme Court had identified marriage as a fundamental right, and that those interested must purchase a permit, present a government ID, and perform a ceremony within a given time timeframe, with a plethora of other requirements if either party had previously been married. Lawson disagreed with the Supreme Court's take. 

"As far as marriage being in the Constitution, a guaranteed right, I kind of differ with that because we bastardized marriage up, down, and sideways," Lawson said. "So, we have a problem here."

Having previously done work on gun legislation, Middletown Sen. Stephanie Hansen brought her own compiled statistics from her work. 

"We do have some well-developed data...on gun crime here in Delaware. From 2008 to 2017, 968 people were killed by firearms. A little more than half of those--503--died by gun-related suicide. Guns were the leading method of all suicides--43.6%--and all homicides at 75.9%. And we know that gun homicide disproportionately affects Black Delawareans, where 76% of gun homicide victims are Black, despite being only 22% of our population. There's also a lot of data across the country that makes it clear that permitting laws like Senate Bill 3 really do result in a reduction in gun related homicides and suicides."

Leaning back onto the point that those who follow the rules are rarely the problem, Ennis said they seem to create figments of issues to fix. 

"Senate Bill 3 and the bill that follows this particular legislation, both offer solutions--but unfortunately, the solutions being offered are looking for a problem," he said. "This particular bill deals with people. But more specifically, and especially, it deals with in regard to an application for a weapon. This bill affects 98% of law-abiding citizens who wish to bear arms to protect themselves and their families; law-abiding citizens are not the problem."

When Hocker suggested the bill would end up in court, Lockman said she believed it would stand up to the challenge. 

"We feel that it would be upheld," she said. "Despite the relatively stronger language [of the Delaware Constitution protecting gun rights,] it is a little stronger than the United States Constitution, but we have have done our homework and believe it would be upheld."

High-capacity magazines

Following 2.5 hours of debate over the previous bill, and a recess in the middle of its own conversation due to technical issues when the live Senate feed apparently ceased working for several individuals who notified lawmakers via text, Senate Bill 6 passed in roughly half the floor time as its predecessor, but with no more agreement on the issue at hand. 

The bill seeks to ban magazines capable of holding more than 17 rounds of ammunition, with large-capacity magazines being overwhelmingly present in America's mass shootings, according to Newark Sen. Dave Sokola's legislation. When they were banned by the federal government from 1994 to 2004, high fatality mass shootings decreased by 43%. Since that ban lapsed, they've increased 240%. Much of the back-and-forth regarding hesitancy centered on logistics. 

Under current Delaware classification, Pettyjohn was concerned paintball weapons would fall victim to the bill as it is written, and a paintball gun's hopper traditionally holds considerably more than 17 rounds of ammunition. 

"I need to disagree with your premise. I don't believe that things like paintball guns, airsoft guns--admittedly I'm not an expert on the combustion action that does occur...[I] just practice in the area of criminal law--that those are not firearms for purposes of penalty or in the incursion of criminal liability," said Kate Butler, Senate Attorney to the Majority Caucus. 

Pettyjohn also wanted clarification on when or how someone would need to turn such items over to the government, if at all. 

"My understanding is that after the implementation of this bill, it becomes not lawful to carry guns equipped with a magazine capacity over 17," Butler said. "I don't know that anyone has to relinquish anything, but don't be possessing it, using it, or trying to kill people with it, I think is the answer."

"Pardon this, but that's a little bit of a flippant answer, 'Don't try to kill somebody with it.' If somebody owns one, what I'm trying to say, if there's somebody that owns one and it's in their safe at home, whether or not they're using it for a good purpose, a bad purpose, could they be charged at that point in time? Are they violating the law?"

"Is it unlawful then to possess a magazine of capacity greater than 17? I didn't mean to be flippant, senator. I appreciate that your question is coming from a place of good faith and I want to answer it accurately. I can't see that this becomes a standalone crime. It doesn't become, like, a possession of paraphernalia for a gun, or anything else," Butler said. "But I do think that the provision that allows folks to relinquish their large-capacity magazines in exchange for money does, in fact, indicate that yes, it becomes prohibited for folks to own these items, even if it is alone, back in their safe."

The bill creates a misdemeanor for a first offense, a Class C felony for subsequent offenses, and seeks to create the aforementioned buyback program for individuals who would be forced to relinquish their purchases under the new law. Some objectors say the buyback funding isn't great enough to make it appealing to owners, or cover the sheer number of these items that might exist in Delaware. Current and former law enforcement, and military members are not required to adhere to the legislation. 

Both bills now head to the House for deliberation.