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Senate passes bills for gun permits, banning high-capacity magazines

A ban on high-capacity magazines, and a bill requiring a renewable permit and training to purchase a handgun passed the state Senate April 1 largely along party lines.

Only one Democrat voted against the measures that both passed by a 13-8 vote. The bills now head to the House for consideration.

Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, joined with with Republicans in voting against Senate Bill 3, which would require a permit and firearm training to purchase a handgun, and Senate Bill 6, which bans high-capacity magazines.

“Law abiding citizens aren’t the problem. Criminals are,” Ennis said.

The vote also ran along geographic lines with all Sussex County senators, and all but one Kent County senator, voting against the bills. Ennis, whose district straddles both New Castle and Kent counties, was the only New Castle County senator to vote against the bill.

Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, said criminals who largely use handguns to commit crimes will never apply for a permit or spend hundreds of dollars to take firearm training classes required by the law. Anyone handgun owner who does not renew their permit every five years will be illegally in possession of a handgun under the law, he said.

“If they don’t create or upkeep their card, they become nonlaw-abiding,” Hocker said. “The bill is going to create criminals out of law-abiding citizens.”

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said the hundreds of dollars in firearms training required by the law will be cost prohibitive for many. “It’s a definite impediment,” he said.

Recurring costs with implementing the bill were also questioned by senators. Operating and recurring costs would start at $2.9 million in 2022 rising to $3.6 million by 2024, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.

Both Pettyjohn and Hocker questioned the constitutionality of the bill under Delaware’s Constitution which has a broader rights to bear arms than the U.S. Constitution.

“If this bill passes, it’ll definitely be in the courts,” Hocker said.

Committee criticism

Both bills generated public comments during a Senate committee March 31.

Alexander Ballard, a firearms instructor, said the bills would empower criminals by making it more difficult for legal gun owners to obtain firearms or ammunition. “This is a huge barrier of entry for the community,” he said during the March 31 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Senate bills 3 and 6.

Senate Bill 3 would require a permit and firearm training to purchase a handgun, and Senate Bill 6 would ban high-capacity magazines.

Shanae Daniels said SB 3 would make it harder for single women who need a firearm for self defense.

“We believe we have the right to bear arms,” she said. “We do not want single women out who cannot protect themselves.”

Attorney Francis Pileggi said the bill would violate state and federal statutes because the permit and training requirement could be compared to a poll tax that would prevent the ability for someone to exercise their civil right to vote. “It would not pass Constitutional muster,” he said.

Although the permit would be free, training would cost hundreds of dollars making owning a handgun cost prohibitive for many, said Mitchell Denham. “That’s a lot of money for someone living below the poverty line,” he said.

Michael Wright said high-capacity magazines are necessary for protection, and he wants his wife to have as many rounds possible in the event that she needs to defend herself or their children. “Are your loved ones only worth 17 rounds?” he asked.

Sen. Elizabeth Lockman, D-Wilmington, SB 3 sponsor, said measures are needed to reduce gun-related murders. “It will keep handguns out of the hands of people who should not have them,” she said.

Groups in favor of the bill include the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, Mom’s Demand Action and the League of Women Voters.

Lauren Vella of the Attorney General’s Office said high-capacity magazines should be banned.

“[High-capacity magazines] have no reasonable use in our society,” she said.

Both bills were placed on the Senate agenda for April 1, a day before the committee hearing.

In a statement released March 30 by Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark, and Lockman, the two said public safety laws are needed to protect Delawareans from the threat of gun violence.

“Legislation to ban high-capacity magazines and establish a permit-to-purchase system for handguns have both been considered in the General Assembly in recent years. These policies are not new and, put simply, Delawareans have waited too long for us to act on them. Too many lives are at risk to justify any further delay in their consideration before the full Senate,” the statement read.