Bills outlawing several types of semiautomatic firearms and magazines capable of holding more than 17 rounds have won final approval in Delaware’s Democrat-controlled General Assembly with no Republican support.
The magazine bill passed the House on a 23-18 vote Thursday, with three central Delaware Democrats joining GOP lawmakers in dissent. It was then returned to the state Senate, which quickly signed off on a House amendment. No GOP senators voted for the bill.
The Senate also voted along party lines Thursday, with a lone dissenting Democrat, to approve a House bill that bans a wide variety of semiautomatic firearms.
The bills, which now go to Democratic Gov. John Carney, are part of a package of gun control measures that he and fellow Democrats want to push through the legislature this month after recent mass shootings in other states.
Senators also voted unanimously to give final approval to a bipartisan measure returning control of background checks for gun purchases from the federal government to the state. A proposal limiting immunity of gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits cleared the Senate on Thursday with no support from Republicans, who argued that it will put small gun dealers out of business and lead to frivolous lawsuits. It now goes to the House.
The magazine restriction bill was approved after being amended to reduce the first-offense penalty for possessing a prohibited magazine, changing it from a felony carrying up to five years in prison to a civil violation carrying a $100 fee. A second violation involving only possession would be a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
The amendment also clarified that the presence of a removable floor plate in a magazine that is not capable of accepting more than 17 rounds of ammunition is not in itself sufficient evidence that the magazine can readily be converted to hold more than 17 rounds. It also changed the compensation for each high-capacity magazine that is surrendered to the state under a buyback program from $10 to “market rate.”
The changes were not enough to placate opponents.
“The problem is not with responsible gun owners. It never has been and never will be,” said Minority Whip Tim Dukes, of Laurel.
The bill is the latest iteration of proposed magazine restrictions dating to at least 2013, when Democrats introduced a bill prohibiting magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. A bill calling for a 17-round limit passed the Senate last year but stalled after the House amended it to allow up 20 rounds for handguns and 30 rounds for long guns.
In the wake of recent mass shootings, chief sponsor David Sokola, the Senate president pro tem, introduced a substitute measure last week reverting to the 17-round limit and eliminating an exemption approved in the House for a Georgetown business that manufactures firearm magazines.
Opponents have argued that the bill — which prohibits the manufacture, sale and possession of any magazine “capable of accepting, or that can readily be converted to hold, more than 17 rounds of ammunition" — will outlaw every magazine sold with modern semiautomatic weapons.
Republicans also have said the measure may not withstand a court challenge under Delaware’s state constitution, which includes more explicit gun ownership protections than does the U.S. Constitution.
The bill exempts current and retired police officers, government and military personnel acting within the scope of their duties, and holders of concealed carry permits. It also exempts firearms dealers who sell to those exempt people or to other licensed gun dealers.
Exemptions also are included in the bill that bans future sales of, and restricts possession of, “assault weapons." The legislation specifically targets more than 60 models of semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns, as well as “copycat weapons.” The definition of a copycat weapon include a semiautomatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and has one additional feature, such as a folding stock, flash suppressor or a pistol grip “that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.” Violating the bill’s prohibitions would be a felony punishable up to eight years behind bars.
The legislation is similar to other bills that Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to pass in recent years. It would not prohibit the possession, transport or transfer to a family member of a targeted firearm that was lawfully possessed or bought before the law’s effective date. It would, however, restrict possession to the gunowner’s property, other private property with that property owner’s consent, and to shooting ranges.
It does include an exception for attendance at “any exhibition, display, or educational project” sponsored or authorized by a law enforcement agency or recognized entity that promotes education about firearms. It’s unclear whether that exception would allow the display of legally owned firearms at gun rights rallies or other public venues.
The bill also includes exemptions for retired police officers, armored car guards and military personnel.