Large-capacity gun magazine ban advances

DOVER — The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to release to the full chamber a bill that would ban magazines capable of holding more than 17 rounds, one of several gun control measures lawmakers are attempting to pass before the General Assembly concludes session at the end of June.

House Bill 375 would prohibit individuals from possessing “large-capacity” magazines, with exemptions for qualified current or former police officers and members of the military acting in an official capacity.

It would also allow use of larger magazines at shooting ranges, and an amendment would authorize holders of concealed carry permits to possess high-capacity magazines as well.

Magazines normally capable of holding more than 17 rounds that have been modified to limit the number would be allowed under the bill.

Possessing a banned magazine would be a Class A misdemeanor (up to one year in jail and $3,200 in fines) for a first violation, and any subsequent offense would be a Class G felony, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

While the main sponsor admitted the proposal will do little to stop crime in the short term, he is hopeful it could save lives in the years to come.

“I look at this bill as a bill that will have a definite impact down the road, because if this bill is enacted and becomes law, that the magazines of over 17 will become less and less and hopefully our children’s children won’t have to deal with this, and the violence will end,” Rep. Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, said.

As an argument for the restriction, supporters point to mass shootings, noting many involve firearms with larger-than-normal magazines. Shooters in, for instance, incidents in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011; Aurora, Colorado, in 2012; and Las Vegas in 2017 had magazines that would be banned under Rep. Mitchell’s bill.

By banning certain magazines, shooters would be forced to reload more, potentially saving lives, proponents say.

But others feel the limitation would do more harm than good.

“This will not stop any crime or criminal from committing any act with a firearm. All it does is make criminals out of law-abiding citizens, which in alone should not be allowed to happen,” Paul Johnston said. “We, the law-abiding citizens of Delaware, do not elect you to make criminals out of us. That’s a given.

“What you need to do is take a look at what’s going on. Every time that there’s been one of these shootings, you look, it’s somebody that should have been prohibited that didn’t get on the list or it’s a criminal committing a criminal act.”

The bill is supported by the Department of Justice, Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Delaware Fraternal Order of Police and Delaware State Troopers Association.

Eight states, including Maryland, New Jersey and New York, ban magazines of a certain size. Six of those define high-capacity magazines as ones capable of holding more than 10 rounds, while the other two states use 15 rounds as the threshold.

A 1994 federal law banned the sale of magazines that held more than 10 rounds, although it contained exemptions for devices manufactured before the law went into effect. That law expired in 2004.

Several people Wednesday questioned if the bill would cause gun manufacturers to simply stop selling certain products in Delaware, and opponents repeatedly alleged it would simply cause individuals looking to use guns to do harm to get large magazines through the black market or in another state.

“It’s got good optics but it’s not going to do anything. Just another attempt to placate those opposed to firearm ownership in general, in our opinion,” said Jeff Hague, president of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association.

Gov. John Carney supports the bill.

A poll taken by Ipsos and National Public Radio in February in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, found 73 percent of Americans support banning high-capacity magazines.

Delaware lawmakers are also considering measures to ban the sale of “assault-style weapons,” prevent 18-, 19-and 20-year-olds from buying rifles, create procedures for taking guns from individuals believed to be dangerous and criminalize possession of bump stocks.

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