Despite strong support from Democrat Gov. John Carney, legislation to outlaw an entire class of semi-auto firearms tanked on Wednesday.
In a 3-2 vote, the Senate Judicial and Community Affairs Committee turned away SB 163, which aimed to ban new sales of a number of guns by name and type as well as place restrictions on the use of those currently in circulation. The architects of the bill said it is needed to cull “weapons designed for the battlefield” from Delaware.
“As we have seen in Parkland, Las Vegas and in many other horrific tragedies across our country, military-style weapons can be used to carry out catastrophic acts of violence,” said Carney in a statement when the bill was introduced in March with his blessing. “These weapons allow those intent on doing harm to outgun members of law enforcement, and they have no place on the streets of our neighborhoods.”
The bill’s language would bar the sale and transfer of specific firearms such as AR-15s and Barrett .50-caliber rifles, as well as any semi-automatic with a detachable magazine and two or more cosmetic features such as a folding stock or flash suppressor. While the legislation allows grandfathering of guns and magazines already in circulation, owners could only have them at home or their place of business, and only take them to a shooting range or educational exhibit. Violations of the law would be a felony and result in as much as 10 years in prison.
Notably, Delaware as a whole has seen few murders in recent years. According to FBI statistics from 2016, the state saw 56 documented homicides, mostly from guns, though none of those were reportedly by rifle or shotgun. Despite its small size, however, Wilmington suffers from a high violent crime rate, with a cluster of teen shootings.
Describing the bill as “radical” the proposal had been panned by both local and national gun rights organizations with the National Rifle Association saying Wednesday that the measure “sought to ban semi-automatic firearms commonly-owned for self-defense, target shooting and hunting.
The swing vote on the legislation this week was considered to be state Sen. Greg Lavelle, who argued the Second Amendment made his decision an easy one.
“Unlike many on the other side of the aisle, I consider the Constitution the first hurdle any piece of legislation must get over, and this bill clearly fails that test,” said Lavelle, R-Sharpley, as reported by the Delaware News-Journal. “There are firearms listed in this legislation that are used for the defense of home, for hunting and for recreation. All of those uses are constitutionally guaranteed.”
Carney– who so far this year has joined a coalition of East Coast governors with the avowed intent of working towards stronger gun policy and signed bills expanding mandatory gun surrenders and mirroring federal straw buyer laws– bemoaned the defeat of the planned ban on semi-autos, saying he was “extremely disappointed.”