Tougher regulations on gun sales nothing new for Delaware residents

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Townsend resident Scott Baker purchases shotgun shells from Brian Brown, owner of Smyrna Sporting Goods Wednesday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

SMYRNA — President Obama’s speech Tuesday trumpeting tighter rules and restrictions on the sale of firearms was an emotional one at times.

The talk around a pot belly stove in downtown Smyrna was far less animated.

According to Smyrna Sporting Goods store owner Brian Brown, Delaware has observed strong gun regulation laws for at least the past two years.

That’s why regular visitors to the licensed gun dealer location didn’t have much of a reaction to more background checks proposed by the president.

“The chat here was that all that is already in play, and nothing new was being said as far as how Delaware operates,” Mr. Brown said.

Gov. Jack Markell and legislators supported House Bill 35 in 2013, which mandated most all firearms sales be conducted through a federally licensed dealer, with a criminal background check required.

Before Mr. Brown completes a firearms sale, he calls an 800 number and provides buyer information to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Until an OK is received, no transaction is made. Dealers receive $30 as a transaction fee.

A two-page ATF 4473 form must be completed, with personal information and answers to 12 questions provided, Mr. Brown said. A further background check may be required based on the responses, before the sale can be approved.

“I think it’s a wonderful system,” Mr. Brown said. “I assume there’s a rather thorough background check.

“Everyone I talk to at ATF is very professional with ‘Yes sir, no sir’ answers. If the rest of government was run that way then we’d all be in a lot better shape.”

Making a buy

Smyrna Sporting Goods receives a transaction fee when a private sale is registered with the state, which occurs a couple times a month. For the past two years, Mr. Brown said, he has processed approximately two online sales a day, with the deal not complete until the government approves.

A gun dealer has the right to refuse gun or ammunition sales to a potential customer, though Mr. Brown said that is atypical in Smyrna. He has attended ATF seminars for instruction on what to look for when evaluating a purchase.

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Smyrna Sporting Goods owner Brian Brown holds a copy of the required background check forms already in place under Delaware law a day after President Obama’s call for tighter rules and restrictions on gun sales.

Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council President William Bryson said he didn’t think President Obama’s executive actions on background checks would add anything to what already occurs in the First State.

“It may generate licensing revenue for the federal government, but will likely do little to restrict gun sales in Delaware,” Chief Bryson said.

“ … From what I understand, the end results will be similar, but Delaware lawmakers worked together for public safety and accomplished the goal more than two years ago.”

The police chiefs supported Delaware’s legislation when it was formulated in 2013, Chief Bryson said. He believes a $50 transaction fee for transfers is excessive, and said it at the time of HB 35’s discussion.

“I believed then, and still believe, that fee is excessive and will prevent some compliance when the transfer involves relatively inexpensive firearms,” Chief Bryson said.

“For example the sale of a shotgun, valued at $75 will now cost the buyer $125. The $50 fee is being applied to each firearm transferred. When a widow sells her deceased husband’s three hunting shotguns to a neighbor, the transfer takes $150 from her proceeds.

“There are times when people only sell firearms out of financial necessity, and $50 per firearm is substantial.”

Enforcing the laws

Through spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman, the Dover Police Department declined comment other than to say, “We are going to enforce the laws on the books and if they change, we’ll enforce those accordingly.”

State Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, the former owner of Shooter’s Choice, said he believes Delaware laws are currently sufficient as long as they are properly administered. He doesn’t want to see the right to bear arms for protection infringed upon, he said.

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Sen. Dave Lawson

“I’ve taken four oaths — in the Boy Scouts, military, as a police officer and in the Senate — to defend the Constitution against foreign and domestic threats and none of them had an expiration date,” Sen. Lawson said.

He described “milquetoast” prosecution of gun-related crimes as destroying the safety of the public and stressing resources of police to protect and serve. He said high recidivism rates continue to fuel criminal concerns.

According to the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, President Obama should be applauded for his efforts.

“Polling shows that 90 percent of all Americans, including the majority of gun owners, want background checks on all gun sales,” the group claims on its website.

“It is unconscionable that the Republican Congress has failed to act on this one important measure. We applaud the president for putting the safety of Americans above the will of special interest groups. The people have spoken and the president has done what he can to deliver.

“The Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence and similar organizations in other states are committed to making sure such executive actions are implemented and are proud of our president for taking these actions.”

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