Delaware lawmakers passed a series of bills late Thursday culminating in one of the most significant days for gun reform in recent Delaware history.
This package of bills – which included strengthening background checks, banning the sale of assault weapons and limiting high-capacity magazines – was introduced by Democrats earlier this month after a series of mass shootings including the one in Uvalde, Texas, in which a gunman shot and killed 19 elementary schoolchildren and two teachers.
Republicans have been against much of this legislation, often citing Second Amendment rights, the impact on small businesses and the need to improve school security. Republican leadership has also alluded to a possible legal fight if this legislation passed.
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The Senate voted on six pieces of gun reform legislation Thursday night, three of which now head to the governor, who has said he supports these bills. The votes came after prolonged debate from Senate Republicans, which stretched for several hours.
The Senate didn't recess until 12:13 a.m. Friday.
Two gun-related bills received overwhelming bipartisan support, including one to bring back state background checks for guns. Lawmakers say this legislation will reduce straw purchases and better identify those who are not allowed to own a gun. The federal background check, which is what is used now, can miss those with outstanding warrants or those convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offenses.
All lawmakers in both the House and the Senate voted for this bill.
The rest of the Democratic-backed bills voted on in the Senate on Thursday night passed with a vote of 13-8. Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, was the only Democrat to vote against the bills.
For House Bill 450, the debate lasted for two hours and 20 minutes, significantly longer than the typical debate for most bills. The legislation would make it illegal to make, sell, purchase or possess assault-style weapons, including AK-47s and AR-15s.
This bill, which now heads to the governor’s desk, grandfathers currently owned weapons and protects owners from being misidentified as those breaking the law, and grants certain exceptions for law enforcement and military members.
Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, who is a former gun shop owner and police officer, engaged in an extended debate over the ban on the sale of assault weapons.
He asked pointed and technical questions of Democrats’ experts and criticized various aspects of the bill.
“The road to hell is paved by good intentions,” Lawson said at one point.
“The road was paved,” Sen. Nicole Poore, the bill’s co-sponsor, immediately responded, “when that young man … killed 19 kids and left them unidentifiable.”
The General Assembly also passed legislation that would define and ban "large-capacity magazines" as a firearm with a capacity to hold more than 17 rounds of ammunition.
This bill has gone back and forth between the Senate and House in the past year. When the House passed the Senate bill in 2021, representatives added amendments that would have allowed for the ownership of large-capacity magazines but include a stricter punishment if used in a crime. It also changed the definition of what the legislation defined as a “large-capacity magazine."
It then languished in the Senate due to many senators being frustrated with the House changes. The bill, Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 6, that passed in both chambers on Thursday is similar to the original Senate version, with some revisions.
It’s now expected to be signed by the governor.
One concern raised by Republicans was how this legislation could affect a Georgetown business that manufacturers magazines. Republican Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, who represents the area, introduced a bill this week that would allow a Delaware magazine manufacturer to sell and transport magazines as long as it is sold to people outside of the state.
Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, previously introduced this as an amendment in a former version of the bill. This bill had overwhelming bipartisan support.
The Senate also passed two bills that will ban the use of devices that convert handguns into fully automatic weapons and hold manufacturers liable for negligent actions that lead to gun violence.
The latter of these two bills is named after Keshall “KeKe” Anderson, who at 19 was an innocent bystander in a 2016 shooting that resulted in her death. The gun involved in the shooting was purchased through a straw purchase. Both bills now head to the House.
The Senate tabled HB 451, which would increase the purchasing age for most firearms to 21 years old. It’s expected to be voted on before the session ends June 30.