House OKs bump stock ban, again

DOVER — For the second time this year, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would criminalize bump stocks and related devices that allow guns to fire faster.

The measure was approved by the House in March but was then amended by the Senate, sending it back to the chamber of origin.

By a 37-4 vote, the House passed an altered version Tuesday. It is now in the Senate once again.

The amendments attached by representatives strike a compromise between the original bill and the Senate changes in regard to the penalty, while also establishing a buyback program, allowing individuals to be at least partially compensated for turning in their property.

The first measure would have made possession, sale or transfer of a bump stock or similar device a Class E felony, which carries a presumptive sentence of up to 15 months in prison.

However, the Senate amendment lowered the penalty to a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class G felony for all subsequent offenses, with the punishment increased if a bump stock was attached to a weapon used during the commission of a felony. The presumptive penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is fines, while a Class felony carries a likely sentence of up to six months.

The first amendment approved Tuesday makes a first offense of possession a Class A misdemeanor (generally up to 12 months of probation if found guilty) and any latter violation a Class E felony. Any instance of receiving or transferring a bump stock would be a Class E felony.

The second amendment, introduced by Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, would create a buyback program to allow owners of bump stocks and trigger cranks to turn them in to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security or local law enforcement and receive $100 per bump stock and $15 per trigger crank.

A total of $15,000 would be allocated, to expire June 30, 2019, meaning anyone seeking to turn in such devices after the funding runs out or the deadline has passed would get nothing in return.

A nearly identical compensation proposal that allocated $30,000 was defeated in the Senate in March.

While the bill’s main sponsor, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, had expressed opposition to a bump stock buyback, she said she changed her mind after speaking with several Republicans.

“They had a good argument that really resonated with me, and that was because if you do it at $15,000, hopefully people will have an urgency to turn them in because there’s little amount of money available, so to me it seemed like a quicker way to get them off the streets, and that was really what sold me on the buyback,” she said after the vote.

She said she waited more than a month to introduce the amendment changing the penalty to hear from all sides and craft the best possible proposal.

The bill passed the House 25-3, with 11 not voting and two absent, in March. This time around, support was much stronger, with only Reps. William Carson, D-Smyrna; Rich Collins, R-Millsboro; Mike Mulrooney, D-Wilmington Manor; and Charles Postles, R-Milford, voting against it.

On the floor, Rep. Collins questioned the need for an increased penalty, speculating it could lead to criminal charges that follow the letter but not the spirit of the bill.

“We’re talking about people that have not actually committed a crime with this device,” he said. “I do not understand increasing the penalty on them.

“People who use this thing in a crime, if they ever do, will be taken care of by statutes like murder or things that really matter. I simply don’t understand why you feel that we must increase the penalty, possibly on a widow who just finds themselves in possession of something they don’t even know what it is.”

Rep. Longhurst described the ban as a “public-safety issue,” noting the gunman in the Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas had several bump stocks. The devices enabled shooter Stephen Paddock to fire more rounds, aiding him in killing 58 individuals attending a country music festival.

The shooting started a debate nationwide about banning bump stocks, which were previously unknown to many gun owners. With a bump stock, a semiautomatic firearm can fire nearly as fast as an automatic weapon, potentially up to hundreds of rounds per minute.

Automatic firearms have been heavily regulated in the United States since 1934.

Bump stock manufacturer Slide Fire recently announced it will stop taking orders and shut down its website May 20.

It remains to be seen what level of support the modified bill enjoys in the Senate. Rep. Longhurst said she is hopeful it will receive a vote soon but declined to predict when that might be.

Also pending in the General Assembly are proposals to prohibit the sale of “assault-style weapons,” criminalize magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and raise the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21.

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

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