Lawmakers clash over gun bills

Dave Lawson

Pete Schwartzkopf

DOVER — Several state lawmakers recently engaged in a minor spat on Facebook over multiple gun control bills ahead of a week that could see action on a few firearm measures in the General Assembly.

On Sunday Sen. Dave Lawson, a Marydel Republican who is one of the Legislature’s staunchest gun rights advocates, posted a short video on Facebook urging citizens to oppose two bills that could be voted on this week by the Senate: House Substitute 1 for House Bill 330 and Senate Bill 163.

Sen. Lawson stated the House substitute would raise the age at which a Delawarean can buy or possess a long gun and ammunition from 18 to 21, while Senate Bill 163 would ban the sale of dozens of firearms considered “assault-style weapons.”

He also indicated Senate Democrats might try to suspend the rules to skip committee hearings for both measures.

The substitute bill is scheduled to be discussed in the Senate Judicial & Community Affairs Committee Wednesday. A hearing date for the other proposal has not yet been revealed.

Both bills are highly polarizing, mainly splitting lawmakers on party lines.

A few hours after his first post, Sen. Lawson added a status saying House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat who is the main sponsor of the substitute, “is trying to tell some of you that my video is not correct. It is factual and he doesn’t like it. Keep the pressure up.”

Both his posts drew dozens of comments, mostly from individuals angered by the bills.

In response, Rep. Schwartzkopf commented, sharing what he said was a text he sent to Sen. Lawson Sunday.

“I just watched ur video and I’m left with two thoughts- either u have not read my bill HB 330 and r just going by what the NRA is telling you OR you are purposely lying in the video,” he wrote in part. “I’m hoping it’s the first choice. My bill does not make it illegal to possess any gun or ammo.”

The bill would increase the minimum age for buying a rifle and some kinds of ammunition to 21. However, it does contain an exemption for shotguns, muzzle-loading rifles and ammunition for both.

The measure would continue to allow a parent or guardian or someone who has the permission of a parent or guardian to transfer a rifle to an underage Delawarean and would exclude law enforcement, active-duty military members and individuals with a concealed carry permit from the new age limit.

Reached for comment Monday, Sen. Lawson said he was more concerned with Senate Bill 163 and noted the original measure, House Bill 330, did not contain the same exemptions.

That bill did still allow a parent or guardian or someone with their permission to sell or hand over a gun to a youth.

Sen. Lawson took issue with several exceptions in the substitute, such as the military provision, which he noted only applies to active duty.

“His carve-outs are jokes,” he said, describing them as “feel-good concessions.”

Rep. Schwartzkopf’s remarks drew a response from Rep. Trey Paradee, a Cheswold Democrat, who urged anyone reading the conversation to look up the bill and “decide for themselves who is telling the truth and who is intentionally trying to mislead the public.”

A few hours after his first post, Rep. Schwartzkopf commented again, accusing Sen. Lawson of deliberately misleading the public.

“He’s telling u that I’m taking guns away from 18 – 21 yr olds. That’s a flat out lie,” he wrote in part. “Now ask urself why. Is he stirring people up to get u to come to leg hall for a rally? Hmm I just remembered he owns a gun store.”

Sen. Lawson opened Shooter’s Choice near Cheswold in the 1990s but sold it in 2012.

A similar misinterpretation of the substitute bill’s provisions occurred during the debate on the House floor last week when Rep. Steve Smyk, a Milton Republican, said he cannot vote for the measure because it would not allow his under-21 son to hunt.

Under the bill, there would continue to be no minimum age for a person to hunt as long as they are accompanied by an adult. The substitute would increase the allowable age of someone supervising a person too young to buy a long gun to 21, up from 18.

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

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