Revised bump stock bill passes Senate, goes back to House

 

DOVER — The Delaware Senate voted overwhelmingly to ban bump stocks Thursday, amending existing legislation and sending it back to the House of Representatives. One of the amendments lessens the penalty, changing a first offense charge for possession of bump stocks from a felony to a misdemeanor.

By an 18-1 vote, with two absent, senators passed House Bill 300. Sen. Dave Lawson, a Marydel Republican, was the only dissenter.

The bill, which would make it a felony 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,” previously passed the House.

However, senators attached two amendments, making the first offense a misdemeanor and creating an amnesty provision for someone who turns such devices in to law enforcement after a 120-day grace period.

Amendments creating a buyback program and allowing a claim of ignorance as a potential defense against prosecution were defeated, mostly on party lines.

The bill passed the House 25-3 with 11 not voting and two absent one week before. It now goes back to the House and could be voted on as soon as Tuesday. If it passes there with no further changes, it will go to Gov. John Carney, who supports the ban.

The vote came one day after students across the state and nation walked out of classes to call for changes in the country’s gun laws, something noted by House Majority Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat who objected to the lessened punishment.

“Today, we let them all down. We need to do what’s best for public safety, not what is politically expedient. Here’s the bottom line: bump stocks are dangerous and deadly. They are not toys, and this is not a game,” Rep. Longhurst, the sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

“They are destructive weapons like bombs, bombshells, firearm silencers, sawed-off shotguns and machine guns. They have no practical purpose in hunting, home defense or sport. As we saw tragically in the Las Vegas massacre, they only serve to fire hundreds of bullets as rapidly as possible.

“In every other state that has passed or is considering similar bills, possession of a bump stock is a felony. These are devices that make destructive weapons even deadlier.”

Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride, a Wilmington Manor Democrat, in a statement called the amendments an improvement.

“We believe that these changes will make a good bill even better by enhancing fairness and effectiveness, while honoring and preserving the bill’s intent. The bill now goes back to the House for a second vote, but this minor delay is a small price to pay — particularly if gun control receives the sustained attention that the legislature owes it,” he said.

“It’s our job to do the right thing, to be thorough, and to be responsive to our constituents. Those objectives are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are complementary and necessary. We hope that the House will vote to advance HB 300 to the governor’s desk and look forward to considering further measures to strengthen our gun laws.”

Under one of the amendments, owning, transferring or receiving a bump stock would carry a fine of up to $1,150 and prison sentence of no more than six months. Subsequent offenses could lead to up to two years in prison.

The original bill carried a jail sentence of up to five years.

The amendment has stricter punishments for use of bump stocks during the commission of a felony.

Sen. Bruce Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat who is the most gun-friendly member of the Senate majority caucus, introduced the amendment changing the punishment.

While Sen. Ennis said he would have voted for the bill without the change, he believes the amendment improves upon it.

“We thought we’d give it a try because everyone else was suggesting certain amendments to make it a better bill and more fair to the law-abiding citizen,” he said afterward.

Bump stocks were attached to several rifles owned by Stephen Paddock, who perpetrated the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas, authorities said. The mechanisms enabled 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, left 58 bystanders dead.

Sen. Anthony Delcollo, a Marshallton Republican, sponsored the amendment providing immunity for individuals who hand bump stocks over to law enforcement in the future. He also attempted to establish a buyback program and provide an affirmative defense provision, but both of those proposals were defeated.

Debate on the buyback amendment centered on whether the government can lawfully take from individuals property they purchased legally.

The program would have set aside $30,000 and paid owners $100 per bump stock and $15 per trigger crank.

Republicans said the change was the right thing to do and could actually save the state money by preventing lawsuits.

“If this law is enacted, at some point in time I’m going to be forced to take that item which I purchased and hand it over to the state and the state in return as a thank you is not going to prosecute me,” Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, a Georgetown Republican, said.

Democrats objected, arguing it would be setting a bad precedent and also protesting the amount proposed to be allocated was not enough to ensure fair value for every owner.

“If these are items that were purchased full well knowing exactly what their intent was, and hearing Republican colleagues stand up and say there’s no good intent for these devices and they should be banned, it just seemed odd to give the compensation for, and if there’s someone who feels that strongly about it they’re really going to bring a lawsuit for a minimally valued item, then we’ll see how that goes, but I think that the sentiment more broadly was that devices purchased that just makes lethal weapons far more lethal isn’t necessarily something that we should be voting to give compensation for,” Sen. Bryan Townsend, a Newark Democrat, said after the vote.

Sen. Stephanie Hansen, a Middletown Democrat, pledged Democrats would work Republicans to ensure the bill passes muster, and Sen. Townsend noted his caucus may look at creating some type of compensation plan for current owners of bump stocks and trigger cranks if attorneys determine the risk of losing a lawsuit is high.

“I think having that kind of analysis rather than just looking at an amendment on the floor the day of the vote” is the right way to do things, he said.

Sen. Lawson, the only member of the chamber to vote against the bill, said he supports a ban but believes doing so without some form of compensating owners is government overreach.

The House was scheduled Thursday to vote on legislation creating a path for taking guns from those with mental illnesses but pulled it from the agenda to allow supporters to draft changes to address concerns posed by some.

The House could vote on the bump stock bill, mental health legislation and a measure raising the age to buy a long gun from 18 to 21 next week.

Gov. John Carney is also pushing a ban on selling “assault-style rifles,” although the specifics of that idea have not been defined yet.

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

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