DOVER, Del. (AP) — The Democrat-controlled state Senate voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill requiring anyone in Delaware wanting to buy a handgun to first be fingerprinted, undergo training and obtain permission from the state.
The vote came after more than two hours of debate in which gun-control advocates argued that the proposal will help reduce the number of homicides and suicides in Delaware. Opponents argued that the bill infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens and will have no effect on criminals responsible for the state’s gun violence problem.
Chief sponsor Sen. Elizabeth Lockman, suggested, however, that even criminals will obey the permit requirement if the bill becomes law.
“Best of all, we know that every handgun owner in our state will have undergone a firearms training course,” said Lockman, a Wilmington Democrat, adding that such training will reduce the numbers of accidental shootings, suicides and gun thefts.
Critics argued that a permitting process will pose a time-consuming and costly infringement on people wanting to exercise their right to defend themselves with firearms — a right enshrined in Delaware’s constitution. Delaware’s constitution, whose gun ownership provisions are more specific than the Second Amendment, also guarantees an individual’s right to keep and bear arms for hunting and recreational use.
“When do we stop persecuting the law-abiding and start prosecuting the criminals?” asked Republican Sen. David Lawson of Marydel, a retired state trooper and former gun store owner.
The permit proposal, which now goes to the Democrat-led House, is similar to others introduced by Democrats in recent years, including one that passed the Senate in 2021 but stalled in the House.
The bill prohibits licensed gun dealers, as well as private sellers, from transferring a handgun to any person unless that individual has a “qualified purchaser permit.” In order to obtain a permit, a person would have to complete a firearms training course and be fingerprinted by the State Bureau of Identification.
The SBI would have 30 days to investigate the person and grant a permit if the applicant is qualified. The agency would be allowed to retain information submitted by an applicant for an indefinite amount of time.
If a permit is granted, it would be valid for one year under the substitute bill introduced Tuesday. Under the previous version, a permit was good for only 180 days. A permit can be revoked, and any guns purchased with it seized, if the director of the SBI later makes a determination “supported by probable cause,” that the person poses a danger to himself or others by having a gun.
The substitute bill allows up to 18 months for state officials to implement the permitting program, up from a maximum of six months under the previous version. The bill includes exemptions for active and retired law enforcement officers, and for those who already have concealed carry permits. It also provides for vouchers covering the full cost of a firearms training course for individuals with household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guideline.
Supporters of the permitting proposal contend that it will help reduce gun deaths and make it more difficult for people to make illegal “straw purchases” of handguns on behalf of those prohibited by law from possessing them.
Fewer than a dozen other states have similar handgun permit requirements. But Daniel Webster, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies gun violence, testified that permitting laws are correlated with decreases in gun homicides and suicides.
Critics note, however, that the number of murders in Maryland has steadily increased in the decade since that state enacted its handgun permit requirement. According to the Maryland Uniform Crime Report, there were 387 homicides in 2013, when the permit law took effect. The number dropped to 363 the following year, then jumped to 553 in 2015. The annual number of homicides in Maryland has remained above 500, except for 2018, when the tally was 489.
There were 573 homicides reported in 2020 and 709 in 2021.
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