Lawmakers seek to ban bump stocks


DOVER — Legislators filed a bill Thursday that would ban bump stocks, which were possessed by the gunman who authorities said perpetrated the Oct. 1 shooting that killed 58 bystanders in Las Vegas.

House Bill 300, introduced in a prefile 26 days before the General Assembly reconvenes, would make it illegal to have “a trigger crank, bump-fire device, or any part, combination of parts, component, device, attachment, or accessory that is designed or functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machine gun.” Having such a device would be a Class E felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

“It seems like every few months, we have a new national tragedy and a new ‘worst mass shooting’ in our country, but nothing changes at the federal level,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat who is the bill’s main sponsor, said in a statement. “We all would prefer to see our national leaders take action, but if they won’t, then Delaware should continue to lead on common-sense issues like these.

“Fully automatic firearms are still illegal, and devices like bump stocks that basically convert semiautomatic weapons into automatic ones should be outlawed. Residents and families have every right to protect their lives and property, but the only reason to own a device like this is to fire hundreds of rounds per minute. I hope my colleagues will join in taking a step forward with this common-sense legislation.”

Authorities said gunman Stephen Paddock had 12 bump stock-enabled rifles, allowing him to fire more rounds out of a hotel room into the crowd at a country music festival nearby. The shooting, the deadliest in American history, killed 58 concertgoers and injured hundreds more.

In November, Massachusetts became the first state to ban bump stocks after the shooting.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, a Georgetown Republican who co-chairs the Delaware Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, expressed some reservations about the bill.

The punishment for having a bump stock might be too harsh, he said, especially because the measure would go into effect as soon as it is signed.

“Anybody that possesses, receives or has possession of one is automatically guilty of a Class E felony,” Sen. Pettyjohn noted.

He said he might be willing to support it if the date of implementation is pushed back.

The bill is backed mostly by Democrats, but Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, a Sharpley Republican, is also listed as a co-sponsor.

Other pieces of legislation were included in the prefile as well.

House Bill 285 would expand the state’s laws regarding gun access by individuals with mental illnesses. Currently, any person who has ever been committed to a mental institution cannot own a firearm unless the individual can prove he or she is not a threat. The bill would extend the limitation to anyone who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty but mentally ill or mentally unfit to stand trial, as well as anyone determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

The proposal would establish a procedure for authorities to investigate anyone reported to law enforcement as potentially dangerous due to a mental illness and remove firearms from their possession.

The bill has bipartisan support.

House Bill 270, the “Clean Water for Delaware Act,” would create a fee of $45 for business licenses and up to $40 for income tax returns ($80 for people filing jointly). According to the bill, more than half a billion dollars in water and wastewater system upgrades are needed over the next five years.

The proposal says the surcharge “could leverage as much as $50 million in total financing annually for clean water investments and support more than 800 direct and indirect jobs per year.”

House Bill 282 would direct the state to appropriate additional funding for high-poverty schools to allow students to take part in outside activities like field trips. Every school where at least half of the students come from low-income families would receive $25 per student per year for this purpose.

Lawmakers return Jan. 9.

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