Permit to purchase signed into Delaware law, federal lawsuit filed challenging its constitutionality

By Joseph Edelen
Posted 5/17/24

DOVER — After more than five years of attempts to establish a handgun permitting policy in Delaware, the measure finally became law with the stroke of Gov. John Carney’s signature on …

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Permit to purchase signed into Delaware law, federal lawsuit filed challenging its constitutionality

Gov. John Carney signs Senate Bill 2, the permit-to-purchase bill, into Delaware law. The policy would require an individual buying a handgun to complete firearm training requirements and obtain a legal permit.


DOVER — After more than five years of trying to establish a handgun-permitting policy in Delaware, the measure finally became law with the stroke of Gov. John Carney’s pen Thursday.

Now, the permit-to-purchase law – which requires an individual buying a handgun to complete firearm training and obtain a legal permit — will undergo a standup period over the next 18 months that will involve regulatory measures and help from state agencies such as the State Bureau of Identification and the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“As I think of some of the challenges that we face in our state … safety, gun safety in particular, comes really right at the top,” Gov. Carney said during Thursday’s bill signing at Legislative Hall. “It’s beyond my comprehension that somebody can pick up a gun and shoot somebody with it. But it happens; oftentimes for no real apparent reason, and it’s sad. But if we prevent them from picking up the gun in the first place, now we got a chance.”

First introduced by Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington, and House Majority Leader Melisa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle, in April 2023, Senate Bill 2 had a dynamic path through the General Assembly.

It was substituted in early May 2023 and quickly passed by the Senate on the same day. Later that month, the bill passed the judiciary committee in the House of Representatives, but it wasn’t discussed on the floor until March 7 of this year. Throughout its journey, 26 amendments were introduced; only four were approved to be added to the bill.

During its path in the legislature, Republicans in both houses of the General Assembly pushed back on the constitutionality of the proposal, the stress administration of the law will have on the Delaware State Police, the creation of a firearm registry and the policy’s cost, which would total nearly $3 million in its first year and about $5 million in fiscal year 2027.

On Thursday, Sen. Lockman remarked on how the legislative process was a challenge, and that the policy will help keep guns out of the wrong hands, which could save lives in Delaware communities struggling with ongoing gun violence.

“I’m very much looking forward to withstanding the inevitable court challenges, standing up a strong program with our agencies, and most importantly, the outcomes of safer communities,” she said. “That’s what this has always been about, and what Delawareans deserve.”

Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate warned their colleagues in the Democratic majority that the policy would be challenged in court.

That was confirmed just after Gov. Carney signed the legislation into law, as Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association president Jeff Hague announced the organization would be filing a federal lawsuit challenging the policy.

Mr. Hague called the law unconstitutional and a “politically motivated, ill-advised and unrealistic attempt to address the rising violent crime in Delaware,” adding that permit-to-purchase was an example of lawmakers “demonizing objects” rather than holding criminals accountable in the court of law.

“DSSA believes this legislation is unquestionably unconstitutional under both Delaware’s Constitution and the federal Second Amendment. For that reason, and that reason alone, DSSA is filing a federal lawsuit challenging this law,” Mr. Hague said in a statement while taking aim at other recently enacted gun control policies that his organization has also challenged in court.

“When presented with the opinions of nationally recognized legal scholars stating that this permit-to-purchase scheme is undoubtedly unconstitutional, one legislative leader said ‘So, sue us.’ Today, we did.”

As the state prepares for another legal challenge to policies attempting to reducing gun violence, Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings, who has been a vocal supporter of permit-to-purchase, has repeatedly said she will fight any attempts at striking the law down.

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