Town hall meeting reveals fierce opposition to gun control

 

MIDDLETOWN — It took about 60 seconds to determine which way the crowd leaned.

It didn’t take much longer to make it clear how strongly it felt.

Most of the approximately 400 people attending a town hall meeting about gun violence Monday evening came to voice their opposition to several proposed gun control measures now in the General Assembly.

The event, organized as an attempt to bridge the divide between opponents and supporters of gun restrictions, featured four Delaware politicians: Two Republican senators, one Democratic senator and the Department of Justice’s top prosecutor who is now running for attorney general.

All four were on stage before hundreds of people in the theater at Middletown High School, just two days after hundreds rallied in support of the Second Amendment in front of the state capitol.

The moderator was forced to restore order minutes after the event began. The two Democratic speakers were booed and interrupted numerous times while the Republican participants were greeted much more warmly.

Several members of the audience began laughing openly after Kathy Jennings, a Democrat running for attorney general, said the state has made a special effort to prosecute gun crimes, a claim Republicans find hard to believe.

Speakers did their best to control the crowd, but tensions ran high for some participants, especially when a ban on “assault-style weapons” was debated.

Monday’s event preceded the resumption of the legislative session with lawmakers convening today after a two-week break.

Over the next two-and-a-half months, the General Assembly is set to debate legislation that would ban so-called bump stocks, prevent 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds from buying rifles, make it illegal to sell assault weapons, prohibit the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, create procedures for taking guns from individuals with severe mental illnesses and prevent anyone on the federal terrorist watchlist from obtaining a gun.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the age bill Thursday and could send it to Gov. John Carney for his signature. The House could do the same to the bump stock measure this week.

On Monday night, Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, drew a vocal reaction for his defense of so-called assault weapons, comparing a ban to punishing a school class for the misbehavior of just one student.

“We’re taking away the liberty of an individual to purchase one of these items because somebody else did something bad with it,” he said to cheers.

According to Sen. Pettyjohn, assault weapons have been used in homicides in Delaware just twice — both times by law enforcement.

Earlier, Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, argued a ban could save lives in the future.

“I think we should do this before we have a mass shooting in Delaware and not after,” he said.

While both Democrats on the panel argued the pending measures make sense as ways to protect public safety, Republicans agreed some are useful but others go too far and may not even reduce crime.

Sen. Anthony Delcollo, R-Marshallton, noted the Delaware Constitution provides a stronger right to bear arms than the U.S. Constitution. The Delaware Constitution offers “the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and State, and for hunting and recreational use.”

Sen. Delcollo at one point criticized Democrats, noting the House has had several opportunities to pass a bill banning bump stocks but has not yet done so.

“I’m left sort of scratching my head wondering why it is that we’re not going ahead with this piece of legislation that when it was introduced was sort of like the most material thing that had to happen this year,” he said.

The debate over firearms has fueled distrust between those in favor of and against gun control, with House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, several weeks ago accusing Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, of deliberately telling mistruths.

Although he did not go that far, Sen. Townsend at one point Monday claimed a great deal of misinformation surrounds the gun bills sitting in the General Assembly, a common complaint from Democrats.

It’s doubtful many people left Monday with changed points of view, but anyone unaware of the strong feelings on both sides surely could no longer claim ignorance.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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