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Delaware lawmakers to revisit handgun permits

Backers of the measure argue that while Delaware has enacted tough gun control measures focused on so-called "assault rifles," handguns remain largely unregulated.

Published: April 23, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

Delaware lawmakers have resurrected a proposal requiring handgun owners to get permits, drawing criticism and the threat of a lawsuit from Second Amendment groups who say it would violate constitutional rights.

A proposal filed Wednesday in the state Senate would require prospective handgun owners to complete a state-authorized firearms training course and submit an application that would include fingerprinting and an extensive background check. If approved, Delaware's Department of Safety and Homeland Security would issue a free 180-day permit.

Backers of the measure, which goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Wednesday for a public hearing, argue that while Delaware has enacted tough gun control measures focused on so-called "assault rifles," handguns remain largely unregulated.

"What we still have not fully confronted, however, are the murders, suicides and gun crimes we see here in Delaware on an almost daily basis – the vast majority of them committed with handguns," said state Sen. Elizabeth "Tizzy" Lockman, D-Wilmington, one of the bill's primary sponsors.

"This legislation will help to stem the incremental bloodshed and devastation that’s already occurring in Delaware by helping to keep deadly weapons away from people intent on harming themselves and others," she added.

The bill's sponsors point out 14 other states and the District of Columbia have some kind of handgun permit law, including New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

A similar proposal was filed in the previous legislative session but failed to gain traction amid claims from opponents who argued it would effectively create a temporary registry of handgun owners. Delaware law doesn't allow the creation of a firearms registry.

Backers said the revised proposal would limit law enforcement's ability to retain records and wouldn't allow the state to keep a registry of handgun permit holders.

"Gun laws save lives," Traci Manza Murphy, executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, which backs the plan. "Requiring a permit to purchase a handgun will put critical time between the impulse to use a gun and the ability to do so – and it will make it a lot harder for guns to end up in dangerous hands."

But the Delaware Sportsmen's Association said the proposal would violate Second Amendment rights and Delaware's Constitution, guaranteeing a right to own and carry firearms. The group vows to file a lawsuit to block the proposal if it lands on Gov. John Carney's desk.

"This legislation echoes the racist old tried and true gun control schemes of southern Democrats after the Civil War whose only goal was to keep guns out of the hands of those they wished to control," the group posted on social media. "This legislation adds costs, barriers, restrictions, and asking for permission to protect your family while violating multiple constitutional rights."

Two weeks ago, a U.S. District Court judge issued a ruling rejecting a request by the sportsman's association and other groups to block Delaware’s "assault weapons" ban. At the same time, a legal challenge over the law plays out in court.

The plaintiffs say the law has "criminalized" gun ownership "by making it a felony for law-abiding citizens to exercise their fundamental right to keep and bear such arms."

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