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Gun safety bills clear a Delaware House committee

Audience at a hearing on gun safety legislation in the House Administration Committee on June 8, 2022
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Opponents and supporters packed the room during a hearing on gun safety legislation in the House Administration Committee on June 8, 2022.

Bills raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and banning assault weapon sales cleared Delaware's House Administration committee on Wednesday.

Though tensions ran high, the hearing only occasionally devolved into shouting.

Opponents urged lawmakers to focus on tightening school security, arguing gun safety legislation does not always prevent people from getting guns to do harm; instead, they claimed, the bills punish law-abiding gun owners for the actions of mass shooters.

House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf responded that in light of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, preventing people with criminal records from accessing guns is not enough.

Somebody said that we’re taking guns away from kids because of criminals with guns," he said. "As far as I know, the shooter in Texas and the shooter in Buffalo weren’t criminals until they pulled that trigger.”

House Minority leader Daniel Short voted against the bills - and expects they will face court challenges if they become law.

“Everybody here will go home, the bill will go on the agenda tomorrow, and it will pass," he said, noting that supporters likely have the votes to pass the bill in both chambers. "After that, the lawsuit will come.”

Supporters, including Delaware Attorney General’s Office and Delaware State Education Association, say the bills are tailored to stem mass shootings like those in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, which involved 18-year-olds carrying AR-15 rifles.

ChristanaCare gun violence prevention specialist Dr. David Chen argues Delaware could be at the forefront of determining if these restrictions work.

Research studies are beginning to point towards their effectiveness," he said, "but the only reason we know this is by comparing states and dates and the difference between action and inaction.”

Schwartzkopf notes the legislature is set to spend an additional $10 million on school security, including placing constables in school buildings. Gov. John Carney says he will sign the bills if they pass.

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