Democrats push for a ban on ‘large-capacity’ gun magazines

DOVER — The fight over gun control is only intensifying.

Continuing their recent focus on firearms, Delaware’s Democratic lawmakers announced Wednesday they plan to file legislation to end the sale of gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

The draft bill, set to be introduced today, would make it illegal to sell, purchase or possess — with some exceptions — “large-capacity” magazines.

“This is a substantial piece of legislation in Delaware’s overall gun safety reform efforts that accommodates our law-abiding citizens while balancing public safety concerns,” main sponsor Rep. Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, said in a statement. “Smaller magazines will not eliminate mass shooting events, but they can help reduce the number of bullets fired and hopefully minimize the tragic outcome.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I’ve seen firsthand how gun violence can tear apart families and the dangerous implications of large-capacity magazines. With this bill, we are taking a stand for public safety in Delaware by reducing the number of rounds available to shooters.”

Eight states, including Maryland, New Jersey and New York, ban magazines of a certain size. Six of those define high-capacity magazines as ones capable of holding more than 10 rounds, while the other two states use 15 rounds as the threshold.

The measure would exempt current or former qualified law enforcement officials, as well as members of the military acting in an official capacity. It would allow usage of large-capacity magazines at shooting ranges and on private land and would not apply to high-capacity magazines that have been altered so they cannot hold more than 10 rounds.

A first violation of the act would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,300 fine or up to one year in prison. Any subsequent offense would be a Class G felony, which carries a sentence of up to two years in jail.

A similar 2013 bill found little success in the General Assembly.

The proposal will likely be just the latest in a series of battles over gun rights, which has evolved into the central issue of the legislative session this year.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, noted some guns, including both handguns and semi-automatic rifles, are manufactured to hold more than 10 rounds.

Should the measure become law, it will end up impacting Americans who legally own guns but will do little to deter criminals, he said.

“It’s the people (who are responsible for mass shootings) and we need to be treating the people,” Sen. Pettyjohn said. “We need to be looking at the mental health issues.”

Jeff Hague, president of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, sounded a similar note.

“A high-capacity magazine ban has been tried in several other states and there’s no empirical evidence it does anything to fulfill the intent of the sponsors,” he said.

Supporters argue a restriction on ammunition may not completely prevent shootings but would limit bloodshed.

They point out many mass shootings involved magazines that held more than 15 rounds, such as incidents in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011; Aurora, Colorado, in 2012; and Las Vegas in 2017.

Forcing shooters to reload frequently can save lives, proponents claim.

“Gun violence is a complicated issue that we need to approach holistically. I’ve been encouraged by Delaware’s public dialogue and progress around guns, mental health and enforcement,” Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said in a statement.

“As important as those policies are individually, they’re even more effective together with legislation that addresses assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Regulating high capacity magazines is a commonsense policy with broad public support, including among gun owners, and I’m glad that we’re including it in our efforts to prevent gun violence in Delaware.”

A 1994 federal law banned the sale of magazines that held more than 10 rounds, although it contained exemptions for devices manufactured before the law went into effect. That law expired in 2004.

A poll taken by Ipsos and National Public Radio in February in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, found 73 percent of Americans support banning high-capacity magazines.

Currently, Delaware lawmakers are considering measures to ban the sale of “assault-style weapons,” prevent 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds from buying rifles, create procedures for taking guns from individuals with severe mental illnesses, criminalize possession of bump stocks and prohibit anyone on the federal terrorist watchlist from obtaining a gun.

The mental illness proposal passed the House without any votes in opposition, while the age and bump stock bans each need to pass only one more chamber but fall more along party lines. The assault weapons restriction and the terrorist watchlist measure have yet to receive their initial committee hearings.

Gov. John Carney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

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