Dems file bill banning assault-style weapon sales

 

DOVER — Democratic officials on Thursday introduced legislation that would ban the sale of “assault-style weapons,” sparking an outcry from gun-rights advocates.

Senate Bill 163 would prohibit the sale or transfer of certain guns in Delaware, and while the weapons themselves would not be illegal, restrictions would exist on where they can be taken.

Based off a 2013 Maryland bill, the measure was announced by the governor’s office last month, leading to speculation as to how the proposal would define assault weapons.

Gov. John Carney’s push for a ban came after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead. The gunman in that incident used a weapon resembling an AR-15.

“As we have seen in Parkland, Las Vegas and in many other horrific tragedies across our country, military-style weapons can be used to carry out catastrophic acts of violence,” Gov. Carney said in a statement Thursday. “These weapons allow those intent on doing harm to outgun members of law enforcement, and they have no place on the streets of our neighborhoods.

John Carney

“It’s true that we need a national approach to confront the threat of gun violence. I believe President Trump and congressional leaders should take action. But we cannot wait to do what’s right in Delaware.

“This is important legislation that will make our state safer — and I urge members of the General Assembly in both parties to act quickly and send this bill to my desk as soon as possible.”

Under the measure, which would go into effect 60 days after passage, selling, making or buying a banned gun would be a Class F felony, punishable by up to three years in jail. A second offense within 10 years would carry a maximum sentence of five years.

The bill would ban 45 specific long guns and 19 handguns. Guns that meet certain criteria would be considered “copycat” weapons and would be prohibited as well.

Exemptions would be granted to law enforcement and individuals acting on behalf of the federal government, including members of the military. A gun defined in the bill as an assault weapon could still be handed down from one family member to another, provided the recipient can legally own a gun.

Generally, an individual would be prohibited from bringing an assault weapon into the state. Such firearms would be restricted outside of specific locations, such as a gun owner’s home, a shooting range, a gun show or a property the owner grants permission for a gun to be transported to.

Supporters see the measure as one that will keep not only civilians but also law enforcement safe. However, the bill is an extremely polarizing one, and Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association President Jeff Hague said the organization is considering filing a lawsuit against the state if the legislation passes.

To Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, the bill is “absurd.”

Lawson, David G. by .

David G. Lawson

“I’m very concerned with the overreach on this one,” he said. “They’ve really gone over. This, in my opinion, is nothing more than disarmament.”

Both Sen. Lawson and Mr. Hague noted rifles are rarely used in murders in the state. FBI data backs that up: According to the agency, there were 269 murders in Delaware from 2012 to 2016, but just two involved rifles, although handguns were used in 119 murders. It is unknown how many of those incidents involved firearms that would be prohibited under the bill.

Automatic firearms have been illegal in the country for decades, and the federal government banned assault weapons from 1994 to 2004. Several studies indicate the prohibition had little impact on reducing overall gun violence.

Seven states have banned at least the sale of assault weapons.

Maryland’s law was upheld in 2017 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. While Delaware falls under the jurisdiction of the Third Circuit, main bill sponsor Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, noted the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case and said he is confident the bill does not violate the U.S. or state constitutions.

Bryan Townsend

Mr. Hague, however, disagrees.

The Delaware Constitution contains a provision guaranteeing the right to bear arms “for the defense of self, family, home and State, and for hunting and recreational use,” while the U.S. Constitution is more general, stating that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Assault weapons, and firearms in general, are a subject fraught with political strife. According to a Feb. 20 poll from Quinnipiac University, 67 percent of Americans supported a ban on the sale of assault weapons. Forty-three percent of Republicans backed it, while 91 percent of Democrats did.

“Fundamentally, this is about we don’t think it’s good public policy to have these kinds of lethal weapons available for sale on stores shelves, so if there are other avenues for people to make a purchase through straw purchases we should have law enforcement continue to try to crack down on that, but I think it says a lot about a community if it allows these weapons to be publicly available on demand on store shelves,” Sen. Townsend said. “That shouldn’t be. That’s an imbalance.”

The measure is one of several firearms-related bills in the General Assembly. Proposals banning bump stocks and keeping guns away from individuals deemed dangerous to themselves or others are awaiting a vote in the House, while legislation raising the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 is in the Senate.

“We have an obligation to always look for ways to make our communities safer. Having fewer assault-style weapons on our streets is one way we can accomplish that goal,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, said in a statement.

“The rallying cry across the country is being repeated over and over — enough is enough, and more than half of gun owners agree that we need to step up and address these firearms. These firearms are massively deadly weapons and should not be sold any longer.”

Sen. Townsend said he hopes the measure will pick up some Republican votes, but nearly every GOP lawmaker is certain to oppose it. There’s also sure to be heavy lobbying on both sides, particularly from the DSSA and the National Rifle Association.

“The optics and the politics look good, but it doesn’t solve anything. There’s other issues that can be addressed, such as the mental health issue,” Mr. Hague said.

The bill could be heard in the Senate Judicial & Community Affairs Committee as soon as Wednesday.

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

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