DOVER — A package of gun-safety legislation the governor and Senate Democratic leadership introduced at the beginning of the month — closely following mass shootings in New York and Texas — is expected to receive final votes before the end of the General Assembly session Thursday.
But it is important to note one type of weapon that largely escapes regulation here — handguns.
A bill that would require people to buy a handgun permit and pass a firearm training and safety course is languishing in a committee in the House of Representatives and is not expected to be considered before the legislature adjourns.
That being said, the six bills in the firearms package would radically change what gun ownership looks like in Delaware, as outlined below:
House Bill 450
HB 450 has passed both chambers of the General Assembly. It awaits the governor’s signature.
The Delaware Lethal Firearms Safety Act of 2022 would ban the manufacture, possession, use, purchase, sale, transfer and transportation of assault weapons in the state. The legislation defines such weapons as any on a long list of guns by make and model, including assault long guns, assault pistols and certain models of assault shotguns.
Included in the definition of assault firearms are so-called “copycat weapons,” a term that covers any gun similar to those named specifically in the bill.
The bill exempts U.S. government, U.S. armed forces, the National Guard and law enforcement officers, so long as they are acting within the official scope of their duties. Licensed firearm dealers that sell assault weapons to law enforcement or to members of the U.S. government, U.S. military or the National Guard are also exempt.
Under HB 450, Delawareans who legally owned an assault weapon before the bill takes effect would be allowed to keep them. But they could only have them at a limited set of locations, including their homes, their properties, their places of business or shooting ranges (or en route between those locations, using a secure container).
It would be up to individual gun owners to be able to prove they owned an assault weapon prior to the ban. One option would be to obtain a certificate of possession through the secretary of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security within one year of the bill’s effective date. That option will not be available until sometime after the bill is signed into law.
House Bill 451
HB 451 awaits a final vote in the Senate. The soonest that could happen is Tuesday.
Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, said Thursday that lawmakers are negotiating a possible amendment. If there are any changes to HB 451, it would need one more vote in the House of Representatives.
The bill would raise the legal age to purchase, own, possess or control a firearm to 21 from 18 — with some exceptions.
Individuals under 21 would be permitted to possess or control a firearm for hunting, instruction, sport and recreational activity under the supervision of someone who is at least 21. Law enforcement officers, military personnel and individuals with concealed carry permits are exempt.
The bill does not apply to shotguns or muzzleloading rifles.
Senate Bill 6
This legislation has passed both chambers and waits on Gov. John Carney’s signature.
SB 6 bans large-capacity magazines, defined as magazines that can accept or easily be converted to hold more than 17 rounds of ammunition.
The prohibition would not apply to “attached tubular devices” for .22-caliber rimfire ammunition. The bill also includes language that seeks to ensure that a magazine is not banned just because it contained a part called a removable floorplate.
Violating the large-capacity magazine ban would incur a civil penalty of $100. A second offense would be a class B misdemeanor, while any further violations would be class E felonies. The bill would also create a crime called “possession of a large-capacity magazine during the commission of a felony,” a class B felony.
SB 6 exempts certain individuals, including military personnel, law enforcement officers, certain retired police officers and people with concealed carry permits. Licensed firearms dealers would still be able to sell large-capacity magazines to other licensed dealers, as well as to the aforementioned exempt individuals.
The bill also calls for the state to set aside $45,000 for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to buy back magazines from state residents.
SB 6 would take effect 60 days after being signed into law.
House Bill 423
HB 423 passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously. It awaits final approval by the governor.
The act effectively expands the scope of background checks by running prospective gun buyers’ information through additional databases managed by the state.
The bill re-implements the Delaware Firearm Transaction Approval Program, which ended in 2011. It would grant the Delaware State Police authority to run its own background checks, in addition to using the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The State Bureau of Identification would act as the point of contact for the national system and would be responsible for transferring applicant information to it, ensuring thorough background checks for those purchasing firearms.
The bureau also would be responsible for the security and confidentiality of any information and records pertaining to the Firearm Transaction Approval Program.
Senate Bill 8
This proposal awaits a final vote in the House, no earlier than Tuesday.
It would ban the possession of “rapid-fire devices,” defined as “a part, kit, tool, accessory or device” that allows a weapon to be fired at a rate faster than is normally possible unassisted. Possessing a rapid-fire device would be a class B misdemeanor for a first offense and a class E felony on a second or subsequent offense, the same as possessing a bump stock or trigger crank.
The bill also brings the state’s definition of “machine gun” in line with federal law.
Lastly, the bill would add making a “destructive weapon” to a banned list of actions that are already class E felonies under state law. Destructive weapons include bombs and machine guns.
Senate Bill 302
SB 302 also awaits a final vote in the House. The soonest that could happen is Tuesday.
The bill would repeal a part of Delaware law that has shielded gun dealers in the state from lawsuits.
It would also allow individuals to sue gun sellers in certain circumstances, such as if a retailer sells a firearm to someone whom he or she suspects will use that weapon to commit a crime. Individuals would have to be “damaged” by a seller’s conduct — or failure to take certain reasonable precautions — to have the right to sue.
Under the legislation, people involved in the sale, manufacturing, distribution, importing or marketing of a firearm-related product could be held liable for “knowingly or recklessly” creating, maintaining or contributing to a “public nuisance.” Public nuisance is defined as “a condition which injures, endangers, or threatens to injure or endanger or contributes to the injury or endangerment of the health, safety, peace, comfort, or convenience of others or otherwise constitutes a public nuisance under common law.”
Individuals harmed by those actions could seek compensation for harm done, as well as attorney’s fees and related costs. They could also seek to halt a firearm industry member’s “acts or omissions” in violation of the bill’s provisions.
Separately, the state attorney general would be able to sue to enforce these measures.
Under the bill, those in the firearm industry would also be required to take steps to prevent the sale of guns to people they reasonably suspect might harm themselves or others, or are not allowed to possess a gun.