3 gun bills to be heard in Senate committee today

DOVER — A Senate committee is set to hear three highly controversial gun bills this afternoon.

The Senate Executive Committee is scheduled to convene at 2:30 today to listen to testimony and vote on legislation that would create a permitting process to buy a firearm, ban “assault weapons” and prohibit magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds.

The measures have generated significant debate since being introduced last month, with supporters arguing they can reduce gun violence while others counter they are unconstitutional and would do more to burden law-abiding gun owners than to stop would-be criminals.

Because Democrats have a four to two majority on the committee, the three bills are expected to be released to the full chamber. But even if they pass through the committee as expected, a floor vote will be a different proposition.

Sen. Trey Paradee, a Dover Democrat, indicated this week he will not support the assault weapons bill as written. He joins Sen. Bruce Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat who has consistently opposed gun control, meaning even if Democrats pick up a GOP vote — and Minority Whip Cathy Cloutier, who represents the Arden area, is the only Republican who might possibly support any of the measures — they cannot afford to lose any other members of their caucus.

Unfortunately for supporters, it’s believed Sens. Paradee and Ennis are not the only Senate Democrats to have concerns about the bills. As is, the bill appears it may be dead in the water due to an amendment from Sen. Paradee.

The assault weapons bill contains a few exemptions, such as for members of the military or law enforcement and, in certain circumstances, firearms dealers.

The amendment, which the full chamber would have to vote on, would add to that list anyone who has a concealed carry permit, takes a recognized firearms training course or, most crucially, was born before July 1, 1998, and is legally authorized to own a gun.

“There are law-abiding citizens who currently own these guns,” Sen. Paradee said. “Some of them have invested a lot of money into them. The current bill essentially devalues their investment.

“A lot of these folks who currently own these guns don’t present a problem to our society. Some of them use them in competitive shooting sports and other lawful activities and I just think that it’s wrong to derive people of lawfully acquired property and to devalue their lawfully acquired property.

“But, at the same time, I am concerned about safety and I’m very much concerned about those types of weapons falling into the wrong hands, and that’s why I think a more sensible approach is to take a training approach, which my amendment proposes.”

The main sponsor of the assault weapons ban, Senate Majority Whip Bryan Townsend, isn’t supportive of the proposed change.

“I think that it effectively guts the bill and … it seems there’s an acknowledgement in the amendment that these items shouldn’t be available publicly easily in a few decades, I don’t understand why they would still be now,” the Newark Democrat said.

Other advocates for gun control aren’t fond of it either: The Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence posted about the amendment on Facebook shortly after it was filed Monday, saying it is “a contradiction to the spirit of the bill.”

Sen. Paradee said he does not believe his amendment weakens the legislation, describing it as simply “a different approach.”

Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, supports the bill but not the amendment, according to a spokesman. The governor also backs the magazine ban but is apprehensive about the permit to purchase.

Jeff Hague, president of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, expects hundreds of people to be in attendance for the committee hearing. Upward of 900 attended an event in protest of the bills last week, he said.

The Senate normally allots an hour for the Executive Committee, but two hours have been budgeted for today’s meeting due to the high number of people expected to attend. Even that, however, may not be enough time, Mr. Hague believes.

An April poll from Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and the Delaware chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said at least 70 percent of respondents backed a permit to purchase, restricting magazines of more than 15 rounds and prohibitions on “military-style assault rifles.”

Opponents, however, claim the survey is not representative of all of Delaware, pointing to the many people who routinely flock to Legislative Hall to express their displeasure whenever gun control bills are on the agenda.

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