Gun control supporters make one more push

Sarah Stowens, volunteer leader of the Delaware Chapter of Moms Demand Action, speaks during an anti-gun rally as Gov. John Carny, House Majority leader Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Bryan Townsend stand to her right at Legislative Hall. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — With eight regularly scheduled legislative days remaining, supporters of several gun control bills are trying to ensure the proposals don’t die in a few weeks while one lawmaker is working to drum up support to suspend the rules and force a floor vote on a high-profile measure.

Currently sitting in the General Assembly are bills to raise the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21, ban the sale of “assault-style” weapons, criminalize bump stocks, create procedures to take guns from individuals believed to be dangerous and prohibit large-capacity magazines.

While bump stocks could be approved as soon as today and the mental illness bill passed the House unanimously last week, the fate of the others is far less certain.

The assault weapon ban, the most controversial gun control bill filed this year, failed to advance out of a Senate committee last week, with more than 100 people showing up for the committee hearing. Most of the attendees at that hearing were opposed to the proposal.

But Sen. Bryan Townsend, a Newark Democrat who is the main sponsor, is still trying to bring the bill before the whole Senate. Speaking Wednesday at a small rally of gun control supporters from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, he urged them to keep fighting.

Proponents of the bills cited newly unveiled polling conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund that claims a majority of Delawareans support greater gun limits.

Eight hundred adults in Delaware were surveyed on firearms last week, and for gun control advocates, the results were nice: On every one of the five bills included in the polling, at least 69 percent of respondents said they are in favor.

Speakers Wednesday leaned on those numbers, arguing individuals against greater gun control are simply more vocal in their opposition.

“We know exactly how strong the support is in the public for these measures, but what’s also important about today is the persistence that we’ve got to show as advocates, and Moms Demand Action and Everytown are fantastic organizations to lead the way in that,” Sen. Townsend said.

“It’s not going to be overnight that we can all of a sudden have the infrastructure that gun safety opponents have had for decades now, including their funding, where they show up at a moment’s notice to oppose common-sense legislation. But I know, talking to the moms in the past several weeks, how committed they are to making sure that that culture of reasonable gun laws and ones that do respect the Second Amendment while promoting more safety, that that culture is the one that prevails.”

Sen. Townsend said he hopes to gain enough support from senators to suspend the rules and bring the assault weapon ban before the full chamber, but while Democrats control the chamber, they do so by the minimum 11-10 margin. Further complicating matters is the fact Democratic Sen. Bruce Ennis, who represents the Smyrna area, voted not to release the assault weapon ban from committee, meaning Sen. Townsend will almost certainly have to sway at least one Republican.

Gov. John Carney, a Democrat who has called for the assault weapon bill to pass, said Wednesday he thinks it deserves a full vote in the Senate, although he stopped short of calling for a suspension of rules, saying he will “let the leadership in the Senate decide what process they ought to use to do that.”

It would “foreign” to not take the assault weapon measure before the entire chamber, Sen. Townsend said afterward.

But opponents are also confident the majority of Delawareans are with them. Sen. Dave Lawson, a Marydel Republican, emphasized the disparity between the number of supporters and the number of opponents present during the committee hearing on the assault weapon ban bill last week.

He rejected Sen. Townsend’s argument the proposal is important enough to necessitate a vote in the entire chamber, noting he had a bill focused on improving school safety that failed to make it out of committee Wednesday.

He also disagreed with the claim that the poll proves Delawareans want more gun control.

“You can make a poll say anything you want,” he said. “Do I believe that’s the real heartland? Certainly not of western Kent County, I can assure you, and I don’t think it’s the majority.”

Thirty-five percent of respondents identified as Republican or leaning Republican, while 47 percent said they are Democrats or leaned left and 17 percent characterized themselves as independents. One percent said they were unsure of their affiliation.

To supporters, the polling numbers are unassailable. Delaware Democratic Party Chairman Erik Raser-Schramm in a statement called them “staggering” and said “voters of all stripes deserve to know where their elected officials stand on this transformational issue.”

Democrats are also trying to ensure they have the votes to kill several Republican amendments on the age bill, particularly one that would let an individual under 21 buy a rifle if he or she has a Delaware hunting license.

The bill has been awaiting a vote in the Senate since the end of March. Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride, a New Castle Democrat, said he will put it on the agenda when the main sponsor, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, requests it. Rep. Schwartzkopf said he is still trying to sway senators and hopes to have the bill run soon.

The bump stock measure, which has been passed back and forth between chambers in a slightly different form each time, could be voted on in the House as soon as today. Should it pass with no alterations, it would go to the governor, who remains hopeful his signature will grace several gun control bills this year.

“When moms demand action, I’ve learned a long time ago you better either fall in behind or get out of the way,” Gov. Carney said.

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

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