Gun background check bill heads to Delaware governor’s desk

Sen. Bryan Bushweller, D-Dover, listens to arguments during debate on a gun bill Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, listens to arguments during debate on a gun bill Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The Delaware Senate passed by a 12-9 vote a bill extending the length of time for background checks before someone can purchase a gun Tuesday.

Less than an hour later, the House passed the amended version, sending the measure to Gov. Jack Markell, who is expected to sign it.

House Bill 325 expands the current waiting period after which, if no response is given from the FBI, a dealer can turn over a firearm to a buyer. Currently set at three business days and referred to as a “loophole” by supporters of the legislation, that waiting period would be expanded to 25 calendar days.

Sen. Bryan Townsend (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Sen. Bryan Townsend (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The bill was originally intended to change the time span to 30 days but an amendment approved by the Senate to gain the necessary support lowered it.

In the Senate, 11 Democrats voted for the legislation, with Sen. Catherine Cloutier, R-Arden, also voting in support. Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, joined the other eight Republicans opposing the proposal.

It passed the House 21-18 Tuesday, after being approved by a 22-17 tally two months ago. No Republicans there voted for it the second go-around.

Supporters say the bill will help prevent criminals from buying a firearm, but opponents counter it infringes on the Second Amendment.

Several gun-control and gun-rights activists were in the Senate chamber for the bill, which was originally slated to be voted on last week before being pushed back twice.

Tuesday, after about an hour of discussion, including the defeat of five amendments that would have weakened the bill in some fashion, lawmakers passed the measure that one senator called “a no-brainer.”

“As long as they remain unknown, we can’t take care of the crazy people,” Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, said. “A lot of crazy people get guns. Like the case in Orlando. Nobody knew the guy was crazy, but he got the guns. We have to end this insanity. We have to end the insanity.”

Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Georgetown, asks for a witness Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Georgetown, asks for a witness Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, objected to the bill, saying many people who share names with someone prohibited from having a gun would have to wait longer under the purview of the proposal and could face difficulty protecting themselves and their family as a result.

“I think we’re going to put people in danger of harm, of being harmed by somebody else. I just am not comfortable with that,” he said. “I think in every area of our criminal justice system you are innocent until proven guilty — unless you’re trying to buy a firearm. Then you have to prove that you’re worthy of exercising this right.”

Individuals barred from buying guns include those who have been convicted of a serious crime, committed to a mental institution and dishonorably discharged from the U.S. military.

According to the FBI, 92 percent of background checks are completed within minutes. The checks consist of running the prospective buyer’s name, as well as other identifying information like his or her address, through databases.

About 182 million checks have been handled since the system went into effect Nov. 30, 1998. Approximately 1 million of those were denied.

Sen. F. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, argued that the bill, while a “well-intentioned” measure, would hurt “vulnerable women,” protesting many people would no longer be able to obtain a firearm quickly.

“Those women want a gun today,” he said. “My wife has a gun at home for when I’m away for protection. I imagine

Senate Minority Whip  Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley

Senate Minority Whip Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley

most of you do as well. Most of the women probably around the room are protected by a weapon at home.”

That charge was rejected by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark.

“The idea that supporting this legislation somehow puts women in harm’s way, when in fact we know that having a very short default time has led to the transfer of firearms to people who have been convicted for domestic violence offenses and the fact that we know conviction of domestic violence offenses associated with higher rates of likelihood of the use of firearms in the home, in fact this legislation reduces the chance that someone is going to obtain a firearm who otherwise should not have one and perhaps use that to commit a crime against the women that Sen. Simpson spoke of,” he said.

Because of the amendment added in the Senate, the House had to approve the proposal a second time, and the chamber did so with little debate.

Gov. Markell, a Democrat, may sign the bill today.

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

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