Democrats in the Delaware General Assembly last week unveiled controversial legislation to ban the sale of assault-style weapons, after a similar measure in Maryland withstood a constitutional challenge from gun-rights advocates in 2017.
As Delaware Law Weekly reported earlier this month, the bill mirrors the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which cleared the Maryland legislature in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Like the Maryland law, the Delaware bill identifies a range of “assault long guns” and other weapons that would no longer be approved for manufacture, sale and transport in the First State.
The synopsis of SB 163, introduced in the state Senate March 22, cites a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which declared that Maryland’s law, known as the FSA, did not violate the constitutional right to bear arms.
In that case, a majority of the federal appeals court relied on U.S. Supreme Court precedent in District of Columbia v. Heller to rule that the Second Amendment did not apply to guns deemed to be “exceptionally lethal weapons of war. The Supreme Court in November denied an appeal by gun dealers and the Maryland branch of the National Rifle Association, who had challenged the FSA in the lower courts.
The Delaware legislation, introduced by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, came at the urging of Gov. John Carney, who last month called for a ban on “assault-style” weapons, after a 19-year-old man used a legally purchased AR-15 to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“This is important legislation that will make our state safer—and I urge members of the General Assembly in both parties to act quickly and send this bill to my desk as soon as possible,” Carney said last week in a statement.
The bill lists 45 types of long guns—including the AR-15 and AK-47—that would be outlawed, along with certain assault pistols and “copycat” weapons. The measure would not include firearms that were legally purchased before the legislation goes into effect, though those guns would be subject to tighter restrictions after the bill’s effective date.
“Military-style assault weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment. They have limited or no practical use for hunting or home defense, yet they are the weapon of choice in mass shootings and pose additional risk to law enforcement,” Townsend, the bill’s chief sponsor in the Senate, said in a statement.
“It’s irresponsible to make them available to the general public on-demand. We owe it to our students, our families, and our law enforcement to keep weapons of war where they belong: on the battlefield, not on store shelves.”
However, the bill is expected to face fierce pushback from Republicans in the chamber, where Democrats hold just a one-seat majority. To complicate issues, gun-control measures don’t always split evenly along party lines, and Democrats could see some defections from Kent County lawmakers, who represent constituencies that are more likely to oppose gun reform.
Meanwhile, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action is already urging members to lobby their state representatives to vote against what it called a “radical gun ban” that would infringe the rights of Delaware citizens.
“As drafted, this legislation would do nothing to stop crime and would only prevent law-abiding gun owners from being able to defend themselves using the most effective means available,” the organization said last week. “Criminals, by definition, do not follow the law and will not follow this one if passed.”
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judicial & Community Affairs Committee, where it could be heard as early as Wednesday.
However, the panel is facing a condensed schedule after a pair of late-season snow storms forced the General Assembly to cancel its legislative business in recent weeks, and the bill may not receive an initial vote until late April.