Florida school massacre sparks more Delaware gun control proposals

 

DOVER — Nine days after a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people in a Parkland, Florida, high school, Gov. John Carney said he will push for a ban on the sale of “assault-style” rifles.

“In the coming weeks, my team will work closely with lawmakers to craft legislation that would prohibit the sale of assault-style rifles in Delaware,” the governor said Friday in a statement.

“As we have seen in Las Vegas, Parkland and in many other horrific incidents across our country, military-style weapons can be used to carry out catastrophic acts of violence. They have no place on the streets of our neighborhoods.

“We need a national approach to this mortal threat to our safety. We stand ready to do our part here in Delaware, and I would urge President Trump and members of Congress to do the same at the national level.

“It’s past time to take serious action to confront this threat. I look forward to working with lawmakers in both parties here in Delaware to make our state safer.”

The proposal is in its early stages, and no bill has been drafted yet.

But not everybody believes it’s the right approach.

House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, called it “a misguided effort that will only serve to further politically polarize Delawareans with no hope of making any real impact on the desired goal of reducing isolated incidents of mass violence.”

One of the issues, he noted, is defining assault-style guns.

“What the governor apparently means by the provocative term is any semi-automatic rifle resembling a military weapon, like the AR-15 rifle used in the recent Florida tragedy,” Rep. Short said in a statement. “According to the National Rifle Association, Americans own about five million AR-15s alone.

“Millions more semi-automatic rifles of other types are also owned by Americans — the vast majority of which will never be employed in any crime. Such rifles are ubiquitous.

“It also needs to be stressed that violent crime in our nation has dropped dramatically. According to the Pew Research Center (using FBI data) the violent crime rate in the U.S. has fallen by 48 percent between 1993 and 2016.

“Passing laws to restrict the basic firearms ownership rights, guaranteed by both our federal and state constitutions, is not the answer to reducing the anomalous incidents of mass violence perpetrated by a few deranged individuals.”

Automatic firearms have been illegal in the country for decades, with the federal government banning assault weapons from 1994 to 2004. Several studies indicate the 10-year prohibition had little impact on reducing gun violence.

Cautioning he is not aware of the fine details of the proposal, Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, expressed hesitancy.

“Who knows where it might end up? But at this point I couldn’t support an outright total ban on assault weapons because people do use them for target shooting,” he said.

Seven states, including Maryland and New Jersey, have banned assault weapons.

This won’t be the only gun-control bill lawmakers will grapple with in the ensuing months: Several gun-control bills are currently pending in the General Assembly, which reconvenes March 6.

House Bill 300 would make it illegal to have bump stocks, also known as trigger cranks. They are devices that accelerate the rate of fire for semiautomatic weapons.

The bill would give current owners of bump stocks 120 days to get rid of them or face felony charges.

The measure, which has some Republican support, was announced after the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas. The shooter in that incident had bump stocks on several firearms.

House Bill 302 would make it harder for individuals judged to be dangerous, particularly those with serious mental illnesses, to obtain and keep firearms. It contains provisions enabling law enforcement to take guns from someone found to be a threat to themselves or others.

The legislation is named the Beau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act, after the late Beau Biden, a former Delaware attorney general and son of former Vice President Joe Biden who unsuccessfully pushed a similar measure in 2013.

Rep. Short encouraged Democrats to back House Bill 285, a gun-control measure focusing on the mentally ill, which does not go as far as House Bill 302.

Sen. Simpson said he was considering legislation that would raise the age restriction for purchase of a long gun to 21, with exclusions for hunters.

Under federal law, gun dealers cannot sell handguns to anyone under 21 and long guns to anyone under 18. From someone buying from an unlicensed individual, such as an online seller, friend or gun-shower attendee, the minimum age for a handgun purchase is 18, with exceptions for hunting. There is no age restriction for unlicensed sellers of long guns.

President Trump on Thursday said long-gun ownership should be restricted to individuals at least 21 years old.

Following the deadly shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, Democrats pushed several gun-control bills, including unsuccessful ones to restrict large-capacity magazines and ban assault weapons outright. They were able to pass a measure requiring background checks for nearly all instances of gun sales, closing the “gun show loophole.”

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

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