Governor Signs Bill Requiring Reporting of Lost and Stolen Guns

Senate Bill 16 gives law enforcement long-sought tool to address gun violence

Dover, DE – Governor Jack Markell today signed legislation making Delaware the eighth state to require that gun owners report lost or stolen weapons to police. Proposed in January by the Governor, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, Attorney General Beau Biden and Department of Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Lew Schiliro, (Senate Bill 16) received strong support from law enforcement groups as an effective way to address straw purchasers – people who buy a weapon to give it to someone prohibited from having one.

Senate Bill 16 was sponsored by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Rep. Michael Barbieri.

“Finally, we have given our law enforcement officers a useful and practical tool to address a dangerous practice that has allowed firearms to get into the wrong hands,” said Markell. “Combined with our efforts to require background checks for private sales, we have made great strides this year toward making our communities safer.”

“Quickly reporting lost and stolen firearms helps the police keep those guns from ending up in the hands of criminals and other dangerous individuals,” Biden said. “This legislation will also help my office prosecute individuals who buy guns on behalf of criminals, only to claim they lost the weapon or it was stolen when that gun is used in a crime.”

“While 99% of all firearm owners take reasonable measures to prevent their guns from falling into the hands of children or persons who use them to commit a crime, this new law will protect those owners by making it easier for law enforcement to locate a lost or stolen weapon and return it to its owners. Timely reporting of gun thefts or losses enables police to trace guns more effectively and makes the successful prosecution of uses of stolen guns more likely,” Schiliro said.

According to the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, police have arrested more than 6,000 people in Delaware for illegal possession of a firearm since 2009. About half of the time the offenders acquire the weapon through a straw purchaser. Senate Bill 16 will require gun owners to report the loss or theft of their firearm to police within 7 days of discovering the weapon is missing.  Violators will be subject to a fine of $75-$100 for a first offense and a fine of $100-$250 for a second offense.  A third offense is a class G felony.

“This law shouldn’t trouble any law-abiding, responsible gun owner,” said Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, who sponsored the new law. “But we hope it help keep our streets safer by combating those so-called ‘straw purchasers’ who buy guns, often in quantity, sell them to criminals and then miraculously discover that they’re missing.”

Rep. Michael Barbieri, the bill’s House prime sponsor, noted that responsible gun owners will report a lost or stolen firearm immediately, much in the same way a person would report their car being lost or stolen right away in the hopes of having it returned.

“For the vast majority of law-abiding gun owners, this bill will have very little impact on their lives,” said Rep. Barbieri, D-Newark. “For those engaged in straw purchases, this bill helps law enforcement with police investigations and give them one additional tool to combat straw purchases. It is another small step toward keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them.”

Video from the signing is on YouTube and photos can be viewed on Flickr


Governor Signs Gun Background Check Bill

Governor thanks law enforcement, advocates for their support and lawmakers for passing bill requiring background checks in connection with virtually all gun sales

 (Dover, DE)  Surrounded by law enforcement, advocates for gun safety and lawmakers from both parties, Governor Jack Markell today signed House Bill 35, the most significant piece of gun safety legislation in Delaware in decades.

House Bill 35, which goes into effect July 1,  closes a loophole in state law by requiring background checks in connection with the sale or transfer of firearms between private parties.  The bill includes several exceptions,  such as transfers to immediate family members, qualified law-enforcement officers and certain short-term transfers to persons personally known to the owner.  

“Thanks to your hard work, your dedication, and your passion, today we are closing the private sale loophole once and for all,” said Delaware Governor Jack Markell. “No longer will we have 2 different markets for the sale of firearms – a regulated market for dealers, and an unregulated market for everyone else.  No longer will our laws draw a meaningless distinction between dealers and non-dealers when it comes to requiring background checks.  And no longer will we tolerate a system that too easily allows criminals to acquire guns and commit more crimes.   You made this happen – each and every one of you.”

Since the 1990s, both Delaware and federal law have required licensed dealers to perform background checks on prospective buyers.  But before HB 35, no background check was required for gun transfers not involving licensed dealers.  This was an enormous loophole—one in which convicted felons, persons who committed to mental institutions and other “prohibited persons” could readily avoid background checks and more easily acquire guns.

Under HB 35, background checks will be performed by licensed firearms dealers. Dealers would be required to maintain records of such background checks in accordance with state and federal law. 

At least 6 times since 1990, the General Assembly has considered legislation to address the private sale loophole.  None of those bills ever made it to a floor vote.  House Bill 35 was unveiled by the Gov. Markell, Lt. Gov. Denn, Attorney General Biden and former Congressman and Governor Mike Castle at a news conference in March.

“I said in January that we weren’t going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we could address gun violence without talking about guns.  And now we have taken a giant step in the right direction.  This is as basic as it gets: keep guns out of the hands of people who we have already agreed shouldn’t have them,” said Matt Denn, Lieutenant Governor.

“Expanding background checks will keep more guns away from criminals and others who should not have them,” Attorney General Beau Biden said.

 “This is a change that’s been a long time coming,” said Senator Harris B. McDowell III, D-Wilmington North, who was an early leader in the move to require background checks in an effort to close the gun show loophole. “By passing this we’re not only making Delaware safer, we’re helping build the momentum that we all hope will spur Congress to what’s needed and act on this common sense measure at a national level.”

 Nicole Hockley, mother of 6 year old Dylan who was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 was one of four Sandy Hook family members at the bill signing.  Hockley  and others traveled to Delaware to meet with state legislator to discuss ways to strengthen Delaware’s gun laws.

 “I am committed to doing all I can to make sure no other parent or family has to go through what I had to go through, or other parents of Sandy Hook are going through or what nearly 4000 families are currently going through as a result of deaths from gun violence just since December 14th,” said Nicole Hockley.  “The legislation will spare Delaware families unimaginable heartache and will save lives without interfering with anyone’s second amendment constitutional rights.   I applaud Delaware for taking this important step forward.”

House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, who was the lead sponsor of the background checks bill, thanked the families from Newtown for attending and turning their personal tragedies into a force for positive change.

 “Your presence reminds us why we took up this legislation in the first place. You remind us that after all the criticism – some constructive, some not so – it was well worth it, especially if we can help prevent future gun violence,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Delaware City. “This background check bill is one step toward addressing gun violence in our society. The supporters of this legislation understand that one bill – or a dozen new laws – is not going to eliminate incidents like this. But to sit and do nothing, to make excuses and refuse to work together to find a common ground, is inexcusable. We are taking one small step forward today, and I hope that it is not our last.”

Persons who violate HB 35 will be guilty of a class A misdemeanor for a first offense.  Any subsequent offense is a class G felony.

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Links to previous gun safety-related news releases this session:

Governor Markell, Lt. Gov. Denn, AG Biden Join Forces to Unveil Responsible Gun Safety Proposals

https://news.delaware.gov/2013/01/14/governor-markell-lt-gov-denn-ag-biden-join-forces-to-unveil-responsible-gun-safety-proposals/

Governor Markell, Lt. Gov. Denn, AG Biden Unveil Bill to Require Reporting of Lost, Stolen Firearms

https://news.delaware.gov/2013/02/20/governor-markell-lt-gov-denn-ag-biden-unveil-bill-to-require-reporting-of-lost-stolen-firearms/

Former Congressman and Governor Mike Castle Joins Governor Markell, Lt. Gov. Denn and AG Biden to Unveil Background Check Bill

https://news.delaware.gov/2013/03/06/former-congressman-and-governor-mike-castle-joins-governor-markell-lt-gov-denn-and-ag-biden-to-unveil-background-check-bill/

House Passes Background Check Bill

https://news.delaware.gov/2013/03/29/house-passes-background-check-bill/


Large-Capacity Magazine Bill Clears Administration Committee

Rep. Mitchell’s HB 58 would limit firearm magazines to 10 rounds

DOVER – Legislation restricting the sale and use of large-capacity magazines capable of firing dozens of rounds cleared a House committee Wednesday.

 Sponsored by retired New Castle County Police sergeant Rep. Larry Mitchell, House Bill 58 would prohibit the manufacture, sale, purchase, transfer or delivery of magazines capable of firing more than 10 rounds. The bill carries a grandfather clause for those who already legally own large-capacity magazines but limits where a person can possess both the clip and the firearm to private property and shooting ranges. The high-capacity magazines would be prohibited in public places.

 Rep. Mitchell pointed to several shootings in recent years in which large-capacity magazines were used in mass shootings throughout the country – Tucson, Ariz. in 2011, Aurora, Colo. in July 2012 and Newtown, Conn. in December.

 “These large-capacity clips, which can carry 30, 60 or even 100 rounds, serve little purpose other than to fire as many bullets as quickly as possible without having to reload as often,” said Rep. Mitchell, D-Elsmere. “In Tucson, the shooter was stopped by ordinary citizens who tackled and disarmed him when he stopped to reload. In Newtown, 11 students were able to escape that horrific shooting when the shooter stopped to reload one of his 30-round clips. In both of these cases, you have to imagine whether there would have been fewer victims if the shooter did not have access to these large-capacity magazines.

 “By limiting the size of firearm magazines, we are taking an important step forward to reduce gun violence. This is part of a culmination of bills to achieve this goal.”

 Under HB 58, large-capacity magazines would not include devices permanently altered so they cannot accept more than 10 rounds or “an attached tubular ammunition feeding device designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.”

 During testimony in the House Administration Committee, Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, spoke about his ordeal and urged the panel to release the bill. Goddard, 27, was shot four times and still has three bullets lodged in his body. 

 “Fundamentally, reducing the capacity of magazines reduces the capability of gunmen,” Goddard said. “Delaware has limited the number of bullets people can use when hunting to six rounds in order to help protect wildlife. It makes sense to limit the number of bullets you can use in everyday society to protect people.”

 “Colin’s story is compelling and personal. Colin could easily be your son, your friend, your neighbor and he is living proof of what can happen when a gun is in the wrong person’s hands,” said Governor Jack Markell. “Our gun safety proposals are common sense measures that keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

 Violating the proposed law would be a class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a class G felony for any subsequent offense.


Delaware Senate Passes Gun Background Check Bill

Governor thanks General Assembly for passing bill requiring background checks in connection with virtually all gun sales

(Dover, DE)  Following the passage of House Bill 35 by the Delaware Senate by a 13-8 margin, Governor Jack Markell today thanked members of the General Assembly for their leadership in passing the most significant piece of gun safety legislation in Delaware in decades.

Under existing law, when a licensed dealer sells a firearm, he or she must perform a background check on the potential buyer. But when the sale does not involve a licensed dealer, no background check is required.  House Bill 35 closes this loophole by requiring background checks in connection with the sale or transfer of firearms between private parties.  The bill includes several exceptions, such as transfers to immediate family members, qualified law-enforcement officers and certain short-term transfers to persons personally known to the owner.

“For too many years, criminals and other ‘persons prohibited’ have been able to avoid background checks and exploit a loophole that allowed them to easily acquire firearms,” said Governor Markell.  By passing this legislation, we will close this loophole once and for all.  I want to thank the members of the General Assembly for passing this important legislation.  Delaware will be a safer place as a result of this bill.”

At least 6 times since 1990, the General Assembly has considered legislation to address the private sale loophole.  None of those bills ever made it to a floor vote.

“House Bill 35 is an important step toward ensuring that we minimize the number of gun tragedies in Delaware, by keeping guns out of the hands of people who we all agree should not have them. I am proud of the Senate – and the entire General Assembly – for passing this important piece of legislation,”  said Matt Denn, Lieutenant Governor.

“I want to congratulate the General Assembly for recognizing that background checks are an essential law enforcement tool that has stopped 2 million individuals nationally, primarily felons, individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes, and fugitives, from purchasing firearms since 1994,” said Attorney General Beau Biden, who worked on implementing the federal Brady background checks when he was a lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1990s.  “Expanding background checks is critically important to protecting the safety of our children, our communities, and our state.”

House Majority Leader Representative Valerie Longhurst, who was the lead sponsor of the bill, agreed to numerous amendments to tighten the bill in response to concerns and ideas from Delaware gun owners. Despite those concessions and efforts at compromise, the NRA still opposed the bill and lobbied against it.

“We saw Congress earlier this week put a special interest group ahead of nearly 90 percent of the country. I want to thank all the representatives and senators who didn’t succumb to pressure and put public safety – and the support of nearly 90 percent of Delawareans – above the lobbying efforts of the NRA,” said Representative Valerie Longhurst, D-Delaware City. “Background checks have stopped thousands of persons prohibited from buying firearms at gun stores in Delaware.  This bill will close the loophole that allows those people to go to a private gun seller and buy a firearm and help keep guns out of the hands of people who should never have the chance to purchase them.”

“This is good, common sense legislation that has been a long time in the making,” said Senator Harris B. McDowell III, D-Wilmington North, the measure’s lead Senate sponsor. “I appreciate the leadership of the governor and of Representative Longhurst in being willing to step up, take on the gun lobby and prevail on an issue that ultimately makes Delaware a safer place.”

There have been 6 bills since 1990 to address the private gun sale loophole.  None of them even made it to a vote in either chamber of the General Assembly.

The bill was unveiled by the Governor during a news conference with former Congressman and Governor Mike Castle last month.   It passed the House in March by a vote of 24-17.

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Video from the event is available online.


Former Congressman and Governor Mike Castle Joins Governor Markell, Lt. Gov. Denn and AG Biden to Unveil Background Check Bill

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Longhurst, Sen. McDowell and others would require criminal history checks in connection with virtually all gun sales

(Wilmington, DE)  Joined by former Congressman and Governor Mike Castle and members of Delaware’s law enforcement community, Governor Jack Markell, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, Attorney General Beau Biden today unveiled legislation to require background checks for virtually all gun sales, with a few limited exceptions.

“I am proud to endorse this initiative to expand background checks for firearm purchases,” said former Congressman and Governor Castle.  In 2009, I sponsored the Bipartisan Gun Show Loophole Closing Act in Congress because of my firm belief that only people who are not prohibited under law from having a gun should be allowed to buy one.  This is a common-sense measure that can save lives.”

Under existing law, when a licensed dealer sells a firearm, he or she must perform a background check on the potential buyer. But when the sale does not involve a licensed dealer, no background check is required,” said Governor Markell.  “We know that people who are prohibited by law from possessing firearms still try to acquire them.  This bill is an important tool to keep guns away from convicted felons and other persons who have no business having a gun in their hands.”

“Everyone who says we should do a better job of enforcing existing laws should be for this bill, because that’s exactly what it does: allow us to ensure that the people who we have legally prohibited from owning guns don’t in fact get them,” said  Lt. Governor, Matt Denn.  “Everyone who says we should be focused on dangerous people should be for this bill, because that’s exactly what it does: it ensures that people who we have already decided through the passage of laws are potentially dangerous do not get guns.”

“The evidence is clear that background checks keeps guns away from people not allowed to possess them under the law—especially criminals,” said Attorney General Biden, who helped to implement the Brady background check law when he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice in the late 1990s. “Requiring universal background checks is a common-sense approach to protect public safety by keeping weapons away from even more people who should not have them.”

In 2011, House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst sponsored legislation to sync Delaware’s background check system with the federal database for firearm purchases. Rep. Longhurst said two years ago she listened to the testimony of parents of two victims in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings and in light of recent events, Delaware needs to reevaluate its background checks system.

“Keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals is critical to cutting down on gun violence and protecting our citizens. One way to do that is through background checks for gun purchases, but there is a significant loophole in our current system that we need to address,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “In just the last six years, close to 3,500 people were denied firearms because they failed a background check at a gun store. Unless we establish universal background checks, those same people can just go to a gun show or another private gun seller to buy a firearm. Why shouldn’t the same criteria apply to all of these gun sales? This bill would close that loophole and keep guns out of the hands of people who should never have the chance to purchase them.”

“Loopholes are ways people circumvent the law,” said Senator Harris McDowell, III, D-Wilmington North.  “This closes a giant loophole through which guns are pouring into the hands of criminals and others prohibited from possessing firearms.”

The legislation unveiled today would require that a background check be performed in connection with the sale or transfer of any firearm, regardless of whether the transaction involves a licensed dealer.  The bill includes a few narrow exceptions, including sales or transfers of firearms involving:

  • Immediate family members (parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, spouse or sibling);
  • Law enforcement officers who meet the training and qualification standards required by police agencies to carry firearms;
  • Antique (pre-1899) firearms and certain replicas thereof; and
  • The return of a firearm by a pawnbroker to the person from whom it was received.

Background checks would be performed by licensed dealers, who would be permitted (but not required) to charge up to $50 per background check. (Under existing law, a dealer may charge up to $20 for a background check requested by a private party.) Dealers would be required to maintain records of all background checks in accordance with state and federal law.

The penalty for a first offense would be a class A misdemeanor.  Any subsequent offense would be a class G felony.