Bill banning bump stocks clears Delaware House committee

DOVER — The House Administration Committee voted on party lines Wednesday to send to the full House a bill banning bump stocks.

Legislation that would make it a felony to own a bump stock or trigger crank was introduced in December, 10 weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The perpetrator of that massacre is believed to have used bump stocks on his assault rifles.

Under House Bill 300, possession of a bump stock would be a Class E felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Valerie Longhurst

An amendment to the bill delays the effective date by 120 days, giving current owners time to hand over such devices to law enforcement or otherwise dispose of them.

Police would not be required to destroy any bump stocks turned over to them.

“I for the life of me can’t understand why anybody would want to have one of these,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat who is the bill’s main sponsor.

The measure defines a bump stock as “an after-market device that increases the rate of fire achievable with a semi-automatic rifle by using energy from the recoil of the weapon to generate a reciprocating action that facilitates repeated activation of the trigger” and classifies a trigger crank as “an after-market device designed and intended to be added to a semi-automatic rifle as a crank operated trigger actuator capable of triggering multiple shots with a single rotation of the crank.”

Officials said Stephen Paddock, the man behind the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas, had among his possessions a dozen bump stocks. Paddock, officials said, killed 58 people attending a country music concert, firing from his hotel room nearly 1,500 feet away. The shooting left 851 people injured.

Wednesday’s committee hearing drew 12 speakers, with an even split between supporters and opponents.

While individuals on both sides agreed bump stocks as defined in the bill serve no purpose beyond allowing a faster rate of fire, they differed as to what Delaware should do.

“This seems to be a solution in search of a problem,” said Jeff Hague, president of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association. “One of these has never been used in the state of Delaware. It’s only been used once that we know of.”

Opponents said the measure would punish gun owners who want to fire hundreds of rounds per minute, but others argued the measure is a common-sense initiative that could save lives.

“There’s been a lot of comments today about law-abiding citizens, and I think it’s important to note that the maniac who shot all those people in Las Vegas, up until the minute he started pulling that trigger, would have been considered a law-abiding citizen. So I don’t think that the people that I represent draw a whole lot of comfort in hoping that all the law-abiding citizens who want or have bump stocks are going to remain that way,” Delaware State Troopers Association President Tom Brackin said.

Federal law bans private citizens from owning machine guns made after 1986. Bump stocks, which allow weapons to emulate machine guns and fire at an extremely rapid rate, are legal, although a few states have banned them in recent months.

Following the Oct. 1 shooting, legislation that would make bump stocks illegal was introduced in Congress. However, it has gone nowhere, something several people noted in urging lawmakers to support House Bill 300.

But House Minority Leader Danny Short, a Seaford Republican, called on his colleagues to wait, pointing out that the U.S. Department of Justice is considering regulations. The DOJ announced last month it was weighing whether it could legally regulate bump stocks.

Even if Delaware bans bump stocks, someone could still buy them in a neighboring state and bring them to Delaware, Rep. Short said. Should the bill pass, he argued, it would also unfairly penalize gun owners who currently have bump stocks and are unaware they have been made illegal.

Rep. Short attempted to table the bill but failed to gain the necessary votes.

Other opponents blasted the bill as government overreach.

“It’s a slap in the face. It tramples on our Constitution. It’s the government saying, hey, we don’t trust you, we’re going to take things away from you, and it’s basically living in a fantasy where we think that we can fix evil and wrongdoing through legislation when those things are inherent in people and not inanimate objects that people chose to use to do harm with,” gun owner Macky Marker told the committee. “This is just back-door gun legislation.”

But those arguments failed to sway supporters of the bill.

“There is no reasonable analysis in which it is acceptable to subject the people of Delaware to the threat of rifles that fire like machine guns, and there is no reasonable argument for making it easy for dangerous people to repeat a tragedy like the Las Vegas shooting here in our state,” Suzanne Bateman, a member of the Delaware chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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