DOVER — The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would prohibit the sale or purchase of certain large magazines.
Senate Bill 6 would forbid Delawareans from obtaining or transferring magazines capable of holding more than 20 (for a handgun) or 30 rounds (for a long gun). The House approved it by a 24-16 margin, with one member absent, in a vote that saw some Democrats and Republicans cross the aisle.
The bill passed only after the House attached an amendment that overhauls the proposal.
The original legislation would have outlawed magazines that can hold more than 17 rounds altogether, establishing a buyback program and giving Delaware gun owners until June 30, 2022, to sell their magazines to the state for $10 apiece.
It also contained overly broad language that essentially would have prohibited all firearms.
The amendment makes possession of a large-capacity magazine during the commission of a felony a class B felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years. Transferring such an item to another individual would be a class E felony, which has a maximum sentence of five years. Possessing magazines with larger capacities would not in itself be illegal.
The House also approved an amendment allowing the manufacturing of banned magazines if they are intended to be sold outside the state.
“When we were confronted with that issue, we had to begin looking at a definition that would address the root issue we are trying to solve. In my community, that problem is extended magazines that allow someone to fire countless bullets without having to reload,” Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, a Wilmington Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the bill and the main sponsor of the amendment, said in a statement Wednesday announcing the upcoming vote.
“Those after-market magazines — the so-called ‘banana clips,’ drums and other devices that hold dozens of rounds — are the contraptions we have to get off our streets and stop selling in Delaware. This amendment provides a clear, realistic and critical step forward in addressing that root problem by creating an enforceable law that can actually achieve its stated goals.”
Thursday’s debate on the bill lasted no more than 10 minutes and mostly consisted of Rep. Chukwuocha explaining his amendment.
The question that now arises is what the Senate will do with the modified legislation and when it will do so. June 30 is the last regularly scheduled day of the 2021 session, meaning it’s a tight window to send it to the governor’s desk this year.
Although the Senate already approved the bill, passing it 13-8 in April after a lengthy and sometimes heated debate, the amendments mean it must go through that chamber again.
“Almost three months ago, the Senate passed two significant public safety bills overwhelmingly supported by the vast majority of Delawareans. After today’s House vote, Senate Bill 6 is not the same bill that virtually the entire Senate Democratic Caucus supported earlier this year,” Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, a Newark Democrat who is the lead sponsor of the bill, said through a spokesman Thursday.
“In the remaining few days of session, we will discuss, as a Caucus, the merits of what amounts to an entirely new piece of legislation. In the meantime, the most impactful step our colleagues in the House can take to prevent gun violence in the First State is to send Senate Bill 3 (requiring a permit to buy a handgun) to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”
The Democratic caucuses in the two chambers have clashed over gun control before, most notably with a 2018 bill banning bump stocks. Both chambers altered the legislation several times, as the proposal passed the Senate twice and House thrice before becoming law.
Police body cameras
The Senate, meanwhile, on Thursday unanimously passed legislation to require all police officers in Delaware to wear body-worn cameras. It now goes to Gov. John Carney, who supports it.
Approved by the other chamber last week, House Bill 195 is part of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’s criminal justice reform efforts. A task force looking at police reform unanimously recommended in May the General Assembly pass legislation regarding body cameras.
The bill directs the state to implement a camera program, establish a central data storage system to house footage and hire necessary personnel. The operating budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 includes $5.2 million to implement a statewide body-worn camera program.
The legislation further instructs the Council on Police Training to create regulations and standards for the use of body-worn cameras by all police officers no later than Jan. 15.
Almost half of Delaware’s 46 police agencies currently utilize body cameras, though there is no universal policy governing their use.
“Body-worn cameras have the ability to be a game-changer in police-community relations. They greatly improve transparency and accountability while providing increased protection for both the police and the community,” Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, a Wilmington Democrat and lead House sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.
“The Delaware Legislative Black Caucus pledged to bring this and other reforms forward as part of our Justice for All Agenda, and we are continuing to deliver on that promise. This collaborative effort between the community, police, Department of Justice and lawmakers to implement universal body camera usage throughout our state is another step forward toward achieving our goal.”