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Three gun bills head to Gov. Carney's desk

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

Senate lawmakers worked late into the night on a bevy of gun safety legislation that’s been front-and-center the past two weeks.

After over two hours of contentious debate, a prohibition on the sale of assault weapons passed, though it grandfathers in assault weapons acquired before the ban takes effect.

That heads to the governor, along with a ban of sale or possession of high-capacity magazines

The amended magazine ban bill outlaws the sale or possession of magazines that hold 17 or more rounds.

The House passed the bill Thursday with State Rep. Larry Mitchell’s (D-Elsmere) amendment scaleing back penalties for possession.

First and second offenses will be a civil offense and a misdemeanor rather than a misdemeanor and a felony. The amendment also increases buy-back compensation from $10 to market price.

Mitchell also responded to Republican arguments the ban could be struck down as unconstitutional in state court, citing similar laws in other states upheld in federal courts.

“There is no reason to believe that Delaware’s constitution is not consistent with the US Constitution, which allows state legislators to allow these kinds of limitations,” said Mitchell.

The amended bill returned to the Senate and was approved, sending it to Gov. Carney.

The third gun bill heading to the governor is bipartisan bill reestablishing a state-administered background check for gun purchases. That state-level background check system that was dropped a decade ago in favor of using the federal system but budgetary reasons,

Senators also tangled over state Senator Brian Townsend’s (D-Newark) bill that would give victims of gun violence and their families the right to sue gun dealers and manufacturers for reckless actions – including ignoring signs of straw purchasing.

A 2019 Delaware Supreme Court ruling gave dealers immunity from that kind of litigation – something Townsend says needs to be remedied.

“The gun industry has certain protections that other businesses do not have, and that is an inequity that should not stand in the face of such violence and such harm,” said Townsend.

Senate Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View) – himself a gun dealer – argue the bill would make it impossible for small gun dealers to insure themselves, effectively driving them out of business.

Townsend’s bill passed and heads to the House for consideration.

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