Senate tables vote on bill raising age to buy rifles

 

DOVER — The Delaware Senate on Thursday tabled legislation that would raise the age at which an individual could buy a rifle in Delaware. With several amendments pending, and disagreement among the Democratic caucus as to how members should vote on the proposed alterations, lawmakers agreed to postpone discussion until the Legislature returns April 17.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat who is the bill’s main sponsor, later said he requested the Senate hold the bill.

“Nobody had a chance to look at these amendments,” he said. “I didn’t have a chance to look at them.”

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 330 would increase the minimum age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21. Active-duty military personnel, law enforcement and individuals with concealed carry permits would be exempt, and parents and guardians could still transfer firearms to their underage children.

Possession of a rifle would not be illegal under the measure.

The legislation, which passed the House mostly on party lines last week, would have been the second gun control proposal to head to Gov. John Carney’s desk this year had it passed the Senate. Legislators upped the penalty for straw purchases earlier this month, and bills to ban “assault-style” firearms, create procedures for taking guns from individuals with severe mental illnesses, criminalize possession of bump stocks and prevent anyone on the federal terrorist watchlist from obtaining a gun are pending.

Thursday’s vote came one day after more than 150 people flocked to Legislative Hall to protest gun control bills.

Following less than 15 minutes of discussion, Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, a Wilmington Democrat, called for lawmakers to table the bill so the two caucuses could hold their daily closed-door meetings. After about 30 minutes, senators returned but did not resume discussion on the proposal.

Sen. Henry’s request came after it appeared likely an amendment adding another exemption to the bill would pass.

Filed by Minority Leader Gary Simpson, a Milford Republican, the change would have allowed 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who have received a hunting license to buy or otherwise receive a rifle.

Those under 21 who want to obtain a hunting license must complete a comprehensive course that includes safety training, Sen. Simpson noted.

While Sen. Henry considered the amendment an “unfriendly” one, it appeared to have the support from at least one Democrat, which would have allowed it to pass.

“It seems to be good common sense that maybe we ought to mandate for all 17-year-olds in our high schools,” Sen. Robert Marshall, a Wilmington Democrat, said.

Rep. Schwartzkopf afterward said he opposes that amendment.

Walmart and Dick’s announced in February they would no longer sell long guns to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. Federal law requires someone buying a handgun from a licensed dealer to be at least 21, and Delaware law forbids anyone under 21 from purchasing such a gun from anyone.

Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who perpetrated the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, reportedly used a rifle he legally bought.

Delaware would be the fourth state with an age limit of 21 for purchase of a long gun, joining Hawaii, Illinois and Florida, according to the Giffords Law Center.

Five amendments, all coming from Republicans, were introduced Thursday. In addition to the hunting license provision, measures that would allow former military members and petitioners in Protection From Abuse Order to buy rifles and exempt .22 caliber weapons and pistol caliber carbines from the restriction are set to be debated when legislators return.

Rep. Schwartzkopf said he does not object to one amendment but would not specify which.

Sen. Simpson said after the Senate finished for the day he does not believe the bill will pass without changes. If all 10 Republicans vote against it, just one Democrat opposing the bill would sink it — and Sen. Bruce Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat, signed it out of committee unfavorably the day before.

Sen. Simpson said he would vote for the bill if his amendment is attached without changes.

Should lawmakers pick up the measure when they return April 17, it may not be the only gun bill up for vote that day: The House could decide on a bill banning bump stocks, which already passed the chamber but was amended in the Senate.

That change lessens the penalty for possession of bump stocks and necessitated the House approve the bill again.

Main sponsor House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat, said she is contemplating an amendment that will find greater consensus. Any change by the House would require another vote by the Senate.

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

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