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Gov. Carney and Democratic lawmakers promise to deliver broad gun safety measures

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

Gov. John Carney and state Democratic lawmakers announced plans on Thursday to push through a slate of gun safety measures during the last month of this legislative session.

The legislation introduced includes a ban on assault weapon sales and high-capacity magazines; similar bills failed to move forward in both 2018 and 2019.

This isn’t the first time Democratic lawmakers offered assurances they’d pass gun bills, but Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) says previous attempts fell through when Democrats didn’t follow through on their promises to hold votes.

"There is a relatively tortured history of gun legislation in Delaware, even with a Democratic-controlled legislature," he said.

Townsend is optimistic that recent mass shootings have lit a fire under his Democratic colleagues in both chambers to deliver this time.

"Now with the horrific tragedies in Texas, Buffalo and others, there is finally a renewed interest more broadly in working on gun safety legislation,” he said.

The package also includes a bill to reestablish a state-level background check system for firearms purchases, which Delaware eliminated more than a decade ago during a series of budget cuts. Townsend argued that state-level background checks can catch crimes that the federal background check system cannot.

Delaware Republican Party chair Jane Brady says her party has been supportive of the state-level background check system.

"We've actually talked to gun dealers who think that [the state-level background check] is more accurate," she said, "and they've had times when they think the state background check would have prevented someone from buying a gun that the federal background check would not have."

But Brady argues many other proposals would do little to reduce gun violence.

"Most of the measures that have come up in the past would do little to deter criminals who want to obtain guns," she said, "and they're more about controlling guns than they are able to actually improve safety."

Townsend also plans to introduce legislation that would allow gun manufacturers and dealers to be held liable for reckless actions that lead to gun violence, including irresponsible advertising tactics and ignoring the warning signs of a straw purchaser.

His ultimate goal, he said, is to require a permit — including fingerprinting and firearms training — to purchase handguns, which he says could provide an even more effective measure to stem straw purchases.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.