Under new legislation proposed in Delaware’s General Assembly and supported by Delaware Governor Jack Markell, individuals who fail to notify police of a stolen or missing gun would face a fine of up to $500 for a first offense and could lose their right to own a gun as a second offense.
The bill was unveiled Wednesday by Markell, Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn and Attorney General Beau Biden at the Delaware State Police building in Newark, Del. A collection of the top police chiefs in Delaware attended the event to support the legislation.
"If we are serious about keeping guns out of the hands of people who have no right to have them, we need to do a better job of accounting for missing firearms," Markell told the assembled crowd. "It’s a very real problem."
Markell cautiously stopped short of linking all missing firearms to the gun violence occurring in Delaware.
"Does every missing gun become a crime weapon? No," Markell said. "But if you ask law enforcement officials like those here with us today what they will tell you is that it happens way too often."
Delaware’s gun owners will be required to report the stolen or lost firearm within 48 hours under the bill. If an individual fails to report a stolen gun for the first time, he or she will be charged with a misdemeanor and receive a fine between $100 and $500. For each subsequent offense, an individual would face a Class G felony charge, which would include different fines and a possible revocation of his or her right to own a gun.
State Senator Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, and State Representative Michael Barbieri, D-Newark, are the bill’s primary sponsors. The bill would add new language requiring the mandatory reporting of a stolen firearm to Title 11, Section 5 of the Delaware Code.
The bill is one of five gun safety measures being proposed in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as well as the gun violence that has plagued Wilmington, Del., in recent weeks.
One of the more notable incidents of gun violence in Delaware occurred February 11, when Thomas Matusiewicz killed Christine Belford and Laura Mulford at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington.
When asked if he felt an increased urgency to pass gun control legislation in the wake of the courthouse shooting, Denn told Legal sibling publication Delaware Law Weekly that "this legislation was urgent before the shooting."
Among the other safety measures that are expected to be unveiled by Markell over the next few weeks are a bill requiring licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks for private firearm sales; banning the sale, delivery and unlawful possession of large-capacity magazines; banning the sale, delivery and unlawful possession of military-style assault weapons; and banning the possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.
"Over the next few weeks, we expect to unveil the proposed legislation as they are done," Denn told DLW. "We want to make sure these bills are as thoughtful as possible to protect our residents."
Denn added that over the next few months, several bills could be introduced focusing on child safety and improving access to mental health, but did not provide more details.
When speaking to the crowd Wednesday, Henry said the mandatory gun loss reporting legislation was introduced first because among all of the governor’s gun reform proposals, it stood the best chance of being passed into a bill by the General Assembly.
"I’m happy this [bill] is the first one the governor is putting forth because I’m hoping it is the easiest to get passed into a bill," she said.
During his remarks Wednesday, Denn criticized what he characterized as a misinformation campaign to oppose the legislation by suggesting that any gun reform proposals will result in the confiscation of Delaware residents’ guns.
"Most of the calls I get and most of the emails and letters I get are in opposition to the state confiscating people’s guns," Denn said. "Nothing we have proposed would do that."
"The people from whom I’m getting emails and from whom I’m getting phone calls are not hearing that [reducing gun violence] is what we are trying to do," he said later in his speech. "And I suspect they would support most of our efforts if they did hear the straight information."
Biden told the crowd that he believes the legislation will crack down on "straw purchasers," who legally purchase guns and sell them secondhand. According to Biden, 8 percent of criminals who commit a gun crime obtained their weapon from a straw purchaser.
He called the bill a "common sense" approach to help law enforcement to be able to track missing weapons.
"This bill takes away the go-to excuse, or defense in our courts, that straw purchasers use after they are confronted with the fact that a weapon they purchased was in possession of a criminal or used in a crime," he said. "It’s a common practice for a straw purchaser to claim they lost track of their gun or the gun was stolen. That won’t be an excuse or defense anymore in the courts of Delaware."