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House passes bill requiring firearms be in a locked container in vehicles, eliminate death penalty

Delaware Legislative Hall
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Legislative Hall

The Delaware House clears a bill requiring firearms be placed in a locked container inside a vehicle, as well as legislation to eliminate the death penalty within state code.

State Rep. Krista Griffith’s (D-Fairfax) bill attempting to reduce vehicle firearm thefts was initially introduced last June and cleared the House on a near party-line vote.

But the bill stalled in the Senate when an amendment was added removing exemptions for concealed carry permit holders, requiring it to return to the House.

The bill has since sat in limbo until it was brought back to the House floor Tuesday.

"According to Delaware State Police Bureau of Identification, more than 671 firearms in the last five years have been reported stolen from vehicles in Delaware," Griffith said. "In many of these situations, the weapons were left unsecured."

But State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R-Clayton) believes the bill will do the opposite of its intentions.

“If a criminal is looking at 10 vehicles to break into, and the one has a lockbox in the car, they’re going to break into that one to take the gun that’s in the lockbox," he said during floor debate.

Under the bill, a firearm is considered safely stored in a vehicle if it is in a locked box or container, a locked firearms rack on the vehicle, locked in the trunk or locked in the glovebox.

While the bill passed again on a near party-line vote, due to the addition of a technical amendment, it heads back to the Senate for final consideration.

House lawmakers also voted to eliminate the death penalty within state code, but the future of capital punishment remains in question.

The Delaware Supreme Court ruled capital sentencing unconstitutional in 2016 because it empowers judges, rather than jurors, to find the necessary facts to impose a death sentence.

Since that decision, Delaware has been unable to impose the death penalty, but State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker’s (D-Wilmington) bill would officially remove the enabling language from state law.

“As such, the penalty for a person who is convicted of first degree murder for an offense that was committed after the person’s 18th birthday is imprisoned for the remainder of the person’s natural life without benefit of probation or parole," she said.

While Dorsey Walker’s bill is largely a technical fix to align with the court’s ruling, the first leg of a constitutional amendment to prohibit imposing the death penalty awaits consideration on the House floor.

Republican lawmakers have introduced their own legislation to keep capital punishment intact by updating the language to ensure the jury has the final say — it has yet to receive a committee hearing.

State Reps. Tim Dukes (R-Laurel) and Danny Short (R-Seaford) announced plans last year to introduce the “Law Enforcement and First Responders Protection Act," which would reserve the death penalty for those convicted of murdering police officers or public safety officials.

Dukes said they have since decided not to introduce the bill due to lack of support, but says it may be introduced next session.

Dorsey Walker’s bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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