The state House on Thursday approved a bill banning the sale or possession of a wide variety of semiautomatic firearms in Delaware.
The bill passed on a 22-19 vote just seven days after it was introduced and now goes to the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats.
The bill is part of a package of gun restrictions that Gov. John Carney and fellow Democrats are pushing to pass by the end of this month in the wake of recent mass shootings in other states.
The ban on what the bill describes as assault weapons targets more than 60 specific models of semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns, as well as “copycat weapons.”
Before the vote, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst amended her bill to expand the types of copycat weapons that would be prohibited and to increase the penalty for violating the ban.
The previous definition of a copycat weapon included a semiautomatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and has at least two other features, such as a folding stock, flash suppressor or a pistol grip “that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.”
The amended version requires only one additional feature to make a firearm subject to the ban and significantly expands the number and types of such features to include some commonly found on semiautomatic pistols.
The revised bill also increases the penalty for violating the bill’s prohibitions from a felony punishable by up to three years in prison to one punishable by up to eight years behind bars.
Democrats rejected a Republican amendment to exempt holders of concealed carry permits from the bill’s prohibitions.
Longhurst, a Democrat from Bear, said her bill is one piece of a comprehensive approach to address gun violence that includes better mental health supports and school safety measures.
“The intention of this legislation is simple and clear — to make sure the next Uvalde, the next Buffalo, the next Sandy Hook, does not take place in the state of Delaware,” she said.
Rep. Bryan Shupe, a Milford Republican, suggested that supporters of the bill were being both disingenuous and divisive.
“I am seeing reactionary policy, ... a pattern of reactionary policy, ...” he said. ”I don’t think this is seriously going to address either the violence in our schools or the violence in our communities.”
Shupe noted that Republicans introduced a bill in 2018 to spend $65 million on school safety measures, such as security cameras, bullet-resistant glass and key card entry and exit devices. The bill never made it out of committee in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Instead, the legislature approved a school safety fund that received only $10 million over two years, amounting to about $22,000 per school, Shupe said.
“Since then, no money has gone into those safety funds for our schools,” he said.
Shupe also questioned the state’s commitment to addressing gun violence, noting that Delaware’s Statistical Analysis Center, which researches and analyzes criminal justice issues, was unable to tell him how many crimes have been committed with guns in Delaware over the past five years, or how many of the guns were obtained illegally.
“How can we say that we are serious and say this bill is anything but reactionary when we don’t consistently fund, we don’t consistently create policy, or even measure gun violence in the state of Delaware?” he asked. “This is not a bill that is part of a serious plan to reduce gun violence but a reactionary policy to limit constitutional rights of the citizens of Delaware.”
In response, Longhurst said she was willing to work to improve funding for school safety. She also suggested that Shupe should introduce a resolution to improve the funding or resources available to the Statistical Analysis Center if it will help lawmakers get the information they need.
“I think we need to be proactive instead of reactive,” she said.