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Last day of legislative session, Delaware lawmakers pass four gun regulation bills

State Rep. Cyndie Romer (D-Newark) presents her legislation to ban firearms on college campuses on the House Floor Sunday at Legislative Hall.
Sarah Petrowich
Sarah Petrowich
State Rep. Cyndie Romer (D-Newark) presents her legislation to ban firearms on college campuses on the House Floor Sunday at Legislative Hall.

On its last day of the legislative session, the Delaware General Assembly passes four bills related to firearm regulations.

Gun ban on college campuses

State Rep. Cyndie Romer’s (D-Newark) bill would prohibit firearms on college campuses, providing exemptions for law enforcement officers and similar professions, but not for concealed carry permit holders.

While the original bill made possessing a firearm on college or university property a class E felony, the final version reduced the penalty to a class A misdemeanor.

“After reflecting on the campus gun bill and consulting with the Senate, I collaborated with our policy team and lawyers to draft an amendment changing the penalty from a class E felony to a class A misdemeanor and excluding right-of-ways to avoid confusion in public areas," Romer said during Floor debate.

Romer has previously said all colleges and universities support her bill, noting it aligns the law with existing school's policies.

It passed with only one Republican, State Rep. Kevin Hensley (R-Townsend) in support of the bill.

Narrowing the firearm definition

State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman’s (R-Clayton) multi-year effort to clarify the definition of a firearm passed for the second and final time in the House with bipartisan support.

Following the recommendations of the Firearm Definition Task Force’s final report, Spiegelman produced a 54-page bill to address discrepancies between what constitutes a firearm in Delaware, aligning the state's definition with the federal definition.

The current firearm definition uses the phrase “by mechanical means” when referring to how a projectile may be released, which Spiegelman has long argued could include slingshots, crossbows and paintball guns, meaning those who commit a crime with a slingshot or a handgun could be charged with the same type of felony.

His bill creates a new category known as “projectile weapons” and changes the definition of a firearm to a weapon from which a projectile is designed or may readily be converted to be discharged by force of an explosive.

“It allows for a much more consistent set of laws when it comes to firearms and projectile weapons throughout the code, and importantly, doesn’t put people in danger of being put in prison for something that the law says they did, but no measure of common sense says they did," Spiegelman said during the bill's first hearing in the House.

During the bill's initial committee hearing in April, the state’s Department of Justice (DOJ) raised concerns that changing the definition could impact case law and statutory interpretations, which resonated with Romer.

“I am voting no on this bill because I prefer the broad definition supported by DOJ, but I understand the inconsistencies within the federal definition that you are trying to achieve. So I do want to be the first to congratulate you on, momentarily, getting through the legislation to have this changed," Romer said during floor debate last week.

The bill passed 37-4.

Requiring firearms to be in a locked container inside vehicles.

The Delaware Senate passed State Rep. Krista Griffith's (D-Fairfax) bill for a second and final time, making the unsafe storage of a firearm in a vehicle a class A misdemeanor if the person knowingly leaves a firearm unattended in a vehicle.

Under the bill, firearms must be stored in a locked box or container, a firearms rack that is on the motor vehicle, or locked in the trunk or glovebox.

State Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel) questioned the practicality of a concealed carry permit holder transferring their firearm to a lockbox out in the open, as well as the concept of the lockbox entirely.

“I agree that guns should not be in plain view and should not be where they can be easily accessible, but putting a lockbox in a car is burdensome to say the least," he said during Sunday's debate.

Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola (D-Newark) says concealed carry permit holders "should not be exempt from safe responsible storage laws" and noted over the course of five years, 700 firearms were reported stolen from cars in Delaware.

The bill passed the Senate with only Democratic support.

Creating a Voluntary Firearms Do-Not-Sell Registry

State Rep. Eric Morrison's (D-Glasgow) bill would create a Voluntary Firearms Do-Not-Sell Registry, in which someone may voluntarily enroll for the purpose of being prohibited from obtaining a firearm.

"The main purpose of this bill is to reduce suicide deaths by firearms. In Delaware, suicides account for 51% of all firearm deaths," Morrison said during the bill's initial committee hearing. "Individuals may also wish to place themselves on this list when they are struggling with mental health issues up to and including suicide ideation, and if they find themselves considering harming someone when they are going through an especially psychologically or emotionally stressful time."

Under the bill, an individual on the registry may request removal no sooner than 30 days after they are entered on the registry. Additionally, an individual who transfers a firearm to a person in violation of the section is guilty of a class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a class G felony for a subsequent offense.

The bill is modeled after Donna's Law, a legislative response to a woman named Donna Nathan, who struggled with bipolar disorder, who purchased "the only gun she would ever own," drove to the Tree of Life in Audubon Park in New Orleans, Louisiana, and killed herself in 2018.

Nathan's daughter Katrina Brees spoke in favor of the legislation during public comment: "My mom would have signed up for this list because she definitely did not want to die, and she always did everything she could to prevent her suicide."

The bill passed in the Senate with one no vote from State Sen. Bryant Richardson (R-Seaford).

All four bill's head to Gov. John Carney for signature. The first three would take effect with his signature, while the firearm definition would not be updated until February 2025.

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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