Legislators take on gun control bills this week

DOVER — For the second time in three weeks, snow canceled scheduled committee hearings. March 21’s storm means this Wednesday will likely be a busy day, as lawmakers try to get bills out of committee before the two-week Easter break.

A bill banning the sale of assault weapons could be heard in the Senate Judicial & Community Affairs Committee and will draw a large audience if it does. One of the most controversial measures filed this year, the proposal would make Delaware the eighth state to prohibit the sale of semiautomatic firearms deemed to be assault firearms.

The National Rifle Association and its local affiliate, the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, are expected to come out in force against the proposal. DSSA President Jeff Hague has already said the organization may file a lawsuit against the state if the bill passes, and if the group doesn’t, someone else surely will.

Main sponsor Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, last week claimed courts have consistently ruled states can place limits on some guns.

The bill’s summary cites Kolbe v. Hogan, a case in which Maryland’s ban on assault weapons was upheld, and District of Columbia v. Heller, which saw the Supreme Court note Second Amendment rights are not “unlimited.”

The assault weapon bill is supported by Gov. John Carney, but passage could be difficult, especially in the Senate, where Democrats hold an edge of just one vote.

The legislation would not make certain guns themselves illegal but would prohibit anyone from obtaining them, except in special circumstances. It does not indicate how someone who legally purchased a banned gun before the restriction went into effect would prove they received it legally.

“We’re looking at that,” Sen. Townsend said. “We’re trying to see whether or not there could be a program where state police, for example, would be able to provide a certificate if someone brings it in before the effective date and shows they already have it, but the records wouldn’t be kept though, so we’re not talking about creating a registry.”

Also in committee Wednesday is legislation creating a clean water fee, to be added to tax returns and business license applications.

The bill is designed to clean up the state’s waterways, of which more than 90 percent are severely polluted, according to a 2015 Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control report.

The proposal is not expected to become law this year.

Some levity was inserted into a serious debate about raising the age to buy a rifle Tuesday when Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, relayed a story involving his son, Gabe. As he talked about his son’s experiences hunting, he asked House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, if he remembered meeting Gabe Smyk.

“Anyone with a squirrel hanging out of their pocket I remember,” Rep. Schwartzkopf replied.

A few minutes later during discussion on the same bill, Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, shared his thoughts on violence on society, saying Americans have been rejecting their “moral guide” for the past half-century.

He elaborated on that when asked afterward, pointing to movies and video games and what he sees as a de-emphasis on religion as sending some individuals down the wrong path.

“We have the separation of church and state which the Supreme Court of the United States made up out of whole cloth. That was not what the founders intended,” Rep. Collins said.

“So, when I went to school we were taught morality by our parents, by our schools, this whole prayer in school. Now, all that’s rejected. We can’t have that today.

“And the result is we have more and more kids, especially when you look at the number of parents who have problems with drugs or other problems like that, who have never been exposed to the concepts that this very nation was founded on. And then I would also go on to say that we have many very, very negative moral influences.”

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

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