House OKs raising age to buy rifles

Peter Schwartzkopf introduces House Substitute 1 for House Bill 330 at Leg Hall on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Lawmakers took another step toward enacting gun control measures Tuesday with the House of Representatives voting to raise the age limit to buy a rifle from 18 to 21.

The measure passed 24-16, with one legislator absent.

Rep. William Carson, a Smyrna Democrat, broke with his party to oppose the bill, while Rep. Mike Ramone, of Pike Creek Valley, was the only Republican to support it.

The proposal, one of several pieces of gun-related legislation in the General Assembly, now goes to the Senate.

The bill would increase the age at which someone can obtain a long gun or ammo for such firearms, with exceptions for law enforcement, members of the military and individuals with concealed carry permits. A parent could still give a gun to his or her children.

Shotguns and muzzle-loading rifle would also be exempted.

Violating the law would carry a penalty of up to two or five years in jail, depending on the exact nature of the offense.

Current state law requires individuals to be 21 or older to buy a handgun but sets the minimum age for purchase of a long gun to 18.

The measure was introduced earlier this month following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. Nikolas Cruz, the gunman in that incident, was 19 and reportedly used a firearm he purchased.

Florida has since raised the age to buy a long gun in the state to 21, although that measure is being challenged in court by the National Rifle Association.

Supporters of Delaware’s proposal say it is different because it offers several exemptions.

The measure approved by the House Tuesday would make Delaware the fourth state with an age limit of 21 for purchase of a long gun, according to the Giffords Law Center.

Gov. John Carney supports the bill.

Tuesday’s vote was preceded by less than 15 minutes of discussion, mainly Republicans objecting to the bill.

Rep. Rich Collins, a Millsboro Republican, questioned if it would just drive people to the black market, pointing to drugs as an example of something the government tried and failed to ban.

While the Parkland shooter did buy a firearm at age 18, there were plenty of warnings along the way, he argued.

“If government had done their job at any step of the way, he would have told the world he was up to no good,” he said, referencing numerous warnings made to law enforcement about the Parkland shooter.

Minority Leader Danny Short, a Seaford Republican, noted the constitutions of both the United States and Delaware guarantee the right to bear arms. The bill’s main sponsor, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, has said he thinks there is no question over its legality.

“What I’m trying to capture with this bill is somebody who, like I said earlier, just happens to wake up on the wrong side of the moon and is really angry with the world and decides they want to go buy a gun at the age of 19 and go kill people, and this will stop that, because they won’t be able to purchase that gun,” Rep. Schwartzkopf said last week.

Awaiting action from representatives are bills banning bump stocks and providing a clear path to keep guns away from those mental illness. The bump stock ban previously passed the House, but the Senate attached two amendments last week. One of those weakens the penalty and could lead to the House attempting to strip it from the bill.

Those may be voted on as soon as Thursday.

Lawmakers are also drafting a measure to ban “assault-style rifles” as called for by Gov. Carney. That could be introduced this week.

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