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Delaware Sportsman's Association files amended complaint against gun control laws

Delaware Public Media

The Delaware Sportsman’s Association expands its US District Court challenge to new state bans on the sale of assault weapons and possession of high-capacity magazines.

The Delaware Sportsman's Association filed its complaint shortly after Gov. John Carney signed the measures into law in June, arguing they violate the US Constitution's Second Amendment and the Delaware constitution’s guarantee of a right to own and carry firearms.

The amended complaint lists a dozen new constitutional arguments, including violations of the so-called “takings clause” of the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the US constitution, which requires the government to fairly compensate citizens for property taken for public use.

Association President Jeff Hague argues the state’s buyback program for high-capacity magazines doesn’t adequately compensate those required to turn in magazines. It offers up to $15 for the most common magazines with a total budget of only $45,000.

“We feel that even though they have this so-called buyback program – and in my view, the government can’t buy back something it never owned – in this case, there’s a limited amount of funding and there’s no way that everyone who complies will be able to be compensated," he said.

Some gun rights groups also argue that compliance with the ban on high-capacity magazines may be low, leaving the new law to be enforced primarily through arrests for unrelated offenses. Others point out that the buyback program's budget might be sapped by people who turn in their damaged or inoperable magazines instead of throwing them away.

The amended complaints also argues that the ban on the transport of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines into the state for sale violates the US Constitution’s Commerce Clause by interfering with the interstate trade in firearms that uses roads, highways, shipping lanes or ports in Delaware.

“Shipments that come into the Port of Wilmington [or] trucks that go through 95 or any other roads that might be carrying these banned weapons would be in violation of state law," Hague said, "and that’s a violation of the federal Commerce Clause.”

Hague expects the state to file a motion to dismiss the complaint, and he does not anticipate a resolution to the case until next year. The Sportsman’s Association is seeking to have the laws ruled unconstitutional, but it has not asked the federal court for an injunction to stop their enforcement in the interim.

The new complaint gives the state 60 days to prepare a response.

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