Advocates, lawmakers rally behind handgun permit to purchase legislation in Delaware
DOVER, Del. – Democratic lawmakers rallied their support behind Senate Bill 2, Wednesday. They say this is the last piece of a slew of common-sense gun reform bills that Delaware has already passed.
Senate Bill 2
Senate Bill 2 tackles gun safety from multiple angles; should the legislation pass, Delawareans wishing to obtain a handgun must first apply, and be approved for, a permit to purchase a handgun. Holders of valid concealed carry permits, qualified and retired law enforcement officers would be exempt.
The bill also prohibits both unlicensed and licensed importers, manufacturers, or dealers from selling or transferring a handgun to someone, unless they have the permit to purchase.
Applicants must complete a firearms training course within five years before the date of application, under the bill. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security is also ordered to develop a firearm training voucher program for low-income residents, per the legislation.
Background Checks, Training to Serve as Safeguards, Say Lawmakers
Lawmakers, and Attorney General Kathy Jennings, say the extra steps put in place before a gun sale can be made will stop gun violence before it has a chance to begin.
“The states with a permit to purchase law have 25% lower gun homicides. They have a 50% lower gun suicide rate, and they reduce gun trafficking by 75%,” said Jennings.
Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth Lockman says the increased checks will also help law enforcement to better determine who they are actually approving to own a gun.
“This system gives police officers an opportunity to see applicants face to face, which gives them more chances to identify someone who is under duress, or experiencing mental health issues,” said Sen. Lockman. “It also gives police time to cross check federal data with local records before that purchase can be completed.”
The current federal background check allows dealers to sell firearms three days after the would-be purchaser has applied for a background check; even if the background check has not yet been completed. Sen. Lockman says Senate Bill 2 will help to close that “loophole.”
“Each and every handgun (owner) in our state will have undergone firearm training course, that will include the proper handling, storage, and use of handguns – something that will reduce the number of accidental shootings, suicides, and gun theft,” said Sen. Lockman.
AG Jennings: Straw Purchases Will Decline
Another impact the bill could have, says Jennings, is that it could help significantly reduce the number of gun straw purchases; firearms sold to legally approved purchasers, who then hand the guns off to someone who is prohibited from buying them.
“We are among the last states in our region to enact a permit to purchase law. Delaware and Pennsylvania are the only states left,” said Jennings. “This law has been known, in other states that have it, to reduce straw purchases by 76%. Why? You have to take a safety training course, you have to know the law.”
House Majority Whip Melissa Minor-Brown says often, the youngest Delawareans with guns in their hands, get the firearms in that manner.
“We’ve seen young people who are too young to legally purchase firearms be able to obtain a gun and use it in a crime. The question is: How are they getting these weapons?” said Rep. Minor-Brown. “Whenever we engage in a debate about gun safety measures, firearm advocates talk a lot about responsible gun owners. Part of being a responsible gun owner is passing the necessary background check, and understanding how to safely operate a handgun.”
Regulating the Person, Not the Weapon
Those opposed to Delaware’s past gun reform laws – like banning assault weapons and ghost guns – argue that gun control should regulate the person, and not the weapon. However, state officials argue that this bill does exactly that.
“It just means people have to pass a safety training course, and they need to know the laws, like how to store your gun safely, and how to make sure that children don’t have access to these guns,” said Jennings.
74% of Delawareans support the measure, representing all three counties, a majority of Republicans, and 64% of legal gun owners, according to the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence (DCAGV).
“Gun violence is the number one cause of death for children and teens in our nation, gun violence is the number one cause of death for children and teens in our state, and gun violence is the number one cause of death for Black men and boys nationwide,” said DCAGV Executive Director Traci Manza Murphy. “SB 2 will put us on the path to ensure that in Delaware, gun rights are equal to gun responsibilities.”
This is not first time this bill has been introduced in the Delaware General Assembly. Changes and compromises made include exempting gun owners who already have a concealed carry permit, and the voucher program mentioned above.
Sen. Lockman says the bill’s fiscal note will likely be larger than before because of this. However, she and other lawmakers have been in communication with Governor John Carney to ensure he fits it into the budget.
Senator Laura Sturgeon, a bill co-sponsor, says she personally will fight to make sure the bill makes it across the finish line.
“Gun violence continues to plague our communities, as much now as it did then. But today, we have the political leadership, and the will, to make a change that will save lives,” said Sen. Sturgeon. “As a member of the Joint Finance Committee, I intend to fight to make sure that this bill is fully funded.”
Lieutenant Governor Offers Support
Delaware Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long is another state official lending her support to SB 2.
“The impacts of gun violence are far-reaching and deeply personal, touching every corner of our state. As a health professional and a mom, I’ve spoken to Delawareans who have shared their fears, their grief, and their hopes for a safer future,” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long wrote in a statement Wednesday.
“Last year, Governor [John] Carney and the General Assembly took necessary action to pass common-sense gun safety laws that will make our communities safer. Permit to purchase is a continuation of that mission, ensuring we do more to prevent gun suicides and community violence in our state. I applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing Senate Bill 2.”
Moms Demand Action
One of the groups there to lobby lawmakers to get SB 2 passed Wednesday, included Moms Demand Action (MDA). The group spent the morning meeting with lawmakers, and making themselves visible around Legislative Hall.
“When moms show up, legislators listen. We’ve had great success in the pass; we’ve passed a red flag law, safe storage law. Last year, our legislature banned assault weapons,” said MDA Volunteer Delaware Chapter Lead, Mara Gorman. “This is the piece that’s missing. It is the part that will save the most lives in Delaware, we believe.”
Gorman says activists are grateful for the support they’ve received from lawmakers in common sense gun reform; and also for Jennings’ support on SB 2.
“We’re grateful for the legislation they passed in the past, but this one – this is the really important one,” said Gorman. ”[Jennings] put the bill on top of her list of priorities. She shows up to talk to our volunteers at big and small events. It really motivates them to know that we have the lead law enforcement official in the state in support of our work.”
National representatives of MDA were also on hand to lend their support. Senior Vice President of Movement Building for MDA and Everytown For Gun Safety, Angela Ferrell-Zabala, says should Delaware pass this bill, it would serve as nationwide example.
“I think Delaware really serves as a model for the nation in what is possible, particularly when we bring our grassroots together – our community partners, our survivors, our students,” said Ferrell-Zabala. “This is because of the strong work of our legislature, looking at our partners, our groups on the ground here.”
Ferrell-Zabala says the work being done by advocates isn’t just about laws, though.
“We’re not only pushing for policy. We have community coming together, and making sure that we have people in office that are putting the interests of our families first,” said Ferrell-Zabala. “This serves as a way of showing how you can pull community together from all walks of life, and have your voice heard; not only have your voice heard, but have real action.”