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Proposed gun bill package coming to General Assembly draws support and opposition

Sarah Mueller

For every Wawa in Delaware, there are four federally licensed firearm dealers.

Advocates seeking to curb gun violence are cheering on new efforts to push stricter gun laws through the General Assembly, but others are pushing back.

Executive Director of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence Traci Murphy says it’s too easy to buy a weapon of war meant for the battlefield, not a backyard.

“We live in a country with more guns than people," Murphy said. "There will never be enough done to fully prevent and solve this crisis, but we can do better.”

Murphy supports the package of gun safety bills introduced Thursday, which would ban assault weapons sales, limit high capacity magazines, raise the age to legally buy a firearm to 21, and enhance background checks.

She argues these measures will help prevent mass shootings, and self-harm.

“Mass traumas like the mass tragedy in Uvalde, and I do not want to diminish that because it breaks my heart," Murphy said. "These children were unrecognizable because of the kind of weapon that was used. That is unacceptable. But we need to recognize that 60% of all gun deaths every year are suicide, and to me that is so preventable.”

However, members of other organizations say while they support enhanced background checks, banning the sale of certain weapons and restricting ages only hurts law abiding gun owners.

Erin Chronister is the founder and director of the Women’s Defense Coalition of Delaware. She supports HB423, which would enhance background checks to include local records, but argues banning the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines won’t matter.

“I think absolutely if someone is intend on doing harm they are going to find a way whether its by buying a firearm off a street corner or utilizing the rental program that they have in the streets of Wilmington," Chronister said, who is also a firearms training specialist. "Someone will say ‘hey I need a gun’ and they’ll drop it at a specific location, the person who is renting it will go pick it up, and then they will drop it at a specific location for the next person.”

Chronister also opposes raising the legal age to purchase a firearm to 21. She says domestic violence does not start at a specific age, and here are women under 21 who need to protect themselves.

Delaware State Sportsmen's Association president Jeff Hague says until focus shifts from banning the object to preventing the wrong people from obtaining guns, violent crime will never be solved, adding bans will only affect law-abiding citizens.

According to the CDC, in an average year, 107 people die
and 279 are wounded by guns in Delaware. Hague says gun violence is concentrated in Wilmington, and is overwhelmingly committed by people who have been convicted of violent crimes before.

"If you look at the analysis of the suspects, a full 80% or so of the suspects had two or more prior gun crime convictions. Interestingly, 70% of the victims also had two or more prior violent felony weapons convictions. That tells me that it's bad guys shooting bad guys. And if you look at the rest of the statistics that are out there, 80% of urban crime is a result of gangs and drugs."

However, in many recent cases, shooters were able to legally obtain a gun, which is where Hague says Red Flag Laws come in.

"If you look at these shooters and their histories, you can easily say, 'well wait a minute, this person has mental problems,' and if it had been taken care of and reported back when, he would have been listed as unable to buy a firearm because of an institutionalization for mental health. And that makes him prohibited from buying a firearm. And an instant check would have picked that up."

Hague says these bills could be on Carney's desk as soon as mid-June, in which case DSSA will evaluate their options to combat HB450 and HB451.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.