DOVER — Parts of a gun legislation package edged closer to completion in the state House of Representatives Wednesday, while a key bill to raise the minimum legal age to possess a firearm remained stalled in the Senate.
House Bill 451 would raise the age to purchase, own or use a firearm to 21 from 18, with some exemptions, including for hunting. The bill passed the House more than one week ago but hasn’t made any progress on the Senate floor. HB 451 is on hold while lawmakers negotiate an amendment, said Scott Goss, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats. Besides a bill that would effectively expand background checks, which passed both chambers unanimously, the gun package has brought out vocal advocates — both in support and opposition.
HB 451 was part a group of bills that was subject to stalling tactics in the Senate last week. On Thursday, citing in part his opposition to the gun legislation, Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, used maneuvers to repeatedly force extra votes, dragging out part of the day. HB 451 was tabled. It was rescheduled to be heard on Tuesday. But when the day came, the Senate again recessed without taking up the bill.
Wednesday’s session marked the third consecutive session where lawmakers passed on the opportunity to act on HB 451.
The House Administration Committee, meanwhile, sent two bills to the floor of the House of Representatives for their final votes — Senate Bill 302 and Senate Bill 8.
SB 302 would repeal a part of Delaware law that has shielded gun dealers in the state from lawsuits. The bill, which passed in the Senate on June 16, would also allow the victims of gun violence and their families to seek sue manufacturers and retailers who knowingly or recklessly endangered residents by their sale or distribution of firearms.
After the bill’s introduction in committee, House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, asked for examples of what could cause a manufacturer to be held liable for gun violence. Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, who introduced the bill, cited straw purchases as an example. Manufacturers should identify when a gun buyer may be orchestrating the purchase for someone who is not permitted to carry, Rep. Bentz said. Rep. Short remained concerned with manufacturer liability, the lack of a process for gun sellers to follow, and the “burden of proof” required to confirm recklessness by gun manufacturers or sellers.
Rep. Bentz sought to address Rep. Short’s fear of unintended consequences with the legislation, assuring him that the goal of the bill was to revoke manufacturer’s complete shield of immunity to seek liability.
“I don’t think it’s going to lead to frivolous lawsuits, and we didn’t write it for it to lead to frivolous lawsuits or to punish an industry at large. We wrote it in cases where someone has been wronged due to the reckless actions of a firearm dealer and we want that person to be able to seek restitution the way a lot of other individuals are granted the right to do in other cases,” Rep. Bentz said.
Before voting “no” on the legislation, Rep. Short stated his intention to pursue legislation that would revoke the opportunity of bail for those in possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He pointed to Tuesday’s funeral for Wicomico County Sheriff’s Deputy Glenn Hilliard, who was shot and killed on June 12 by an individual who was out on bail. Rep. Short said that by actually prosecuting individuals who use firearms, some of the issues pertaining to gun violence could be solved.
Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, introduced SB 8, which would ban multiple gun parts that can significantly increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic weapon, including bump stocks, which channel a gun’s recoil into rapidly actuating the trigger. It would change the state’s definition of “machine gun” to correspond with federal law.
The bill, whose prime sponsor is Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark, passed the Senate on June 16. At Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Osienski urged members of the House Administration committee to put their partisanship aside in order to protect Delaware communities, which ultimately came true, as the bill was unanimously voted out of committee.
Also approved unanimously Wednesday was SB 323, which would allow state manufacturers of large-capacity magazines to sell them outside the state — if a ban on them, SB 6, is signed into law as expected. Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said the bill would ensure a business in her district would not be harmed by the ban.