By Lee Williams
SAF Investigative Journalism Project
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In terms of an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, Delaware has never been as bad as some of its neighbors, especially New Jersey.
Delawareans can own Modern Sporting Rifles with standard-capacity magazines. They can apply for concealed-carry permits, and most are granted even though it’s a may-issue state. Delaware is small – only three counties. Were it not for its most populous and liberal city, Wilmington, Delaware would likely be a red state. Southern Delaware, which is more conservative, has always had a vibrant gun culture and is a haven for hunters, collectors and target shooters. Unfortunately, all of this is may soon change.
The Delaware General Assembly, which like the Governor’s mansion is controlled by the Democrats, is fast-tracking a trio of strict anti-gun bills the likes of which have never been seen before in The First State. The legislation has the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association – the state’s NRA affiliate – scrambling. But it is the origin of the bills and how they’ll impact gun owners in all 50 states that’s causing the most concern.
The DSSA has learned of a teleconference that took place just days after the mass murder in Uvalde, Texas. On the call were the leaders of the Delaware House, Senate as well as Gov. John Carney.
“That’s where the scheme was hatched. Almost immediately, we got word that we would see the bills filed at the same time. It was intended to be done as a blitzkrieg,” said John Sigler, a former president of both the DSSA and the National Rifle Association and a current NRA board member.
The DSSA, Sigler said, received leaked copies of the bills that coincided with Biden’s post-Uvalde speeches. They have also learned that Biden will be meeting with Gov. Carney next week.
“We suspect it’s for a bill signing,” Sigler said. “We suspect the whole thing is being run out of the White House to give Biden a victory, when he can’t get a victory anywhere else.”
The three bills are flying through Delaware’s General Assembly. It’s become apparent the Democrats are under tremendous pressure to get them passed. The bills will likely clear the House this week and the Senate next week. In the House, public comment was limited to one minute per person. A Republican state representative tried to argue that since the bills raise serious constitutional issues, they should be given more time. He was ignored.
HB 450 is an “assault weapon” ban.
According to the legislation: “The Delaware Lethal Firearms Safety Act of 2022 prohibits the manufacture, sale, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, receipt, possession, or transport of assault weapons in Delaware, subject to certain exceptions. One exception is that the Act does not prohibit the possession and transport of firearms that were lawfully possessed or purchased before the effective date of this Act; although for these firearms there are certain restrictions relating to their possession and transport after the effective date of this Act. There are also exceptions for law-enforcement and military personnel in the course of their official duties, and a limited exception for retired law-enforcement personnel. Finally, a person lawfully in possession of an assault weapon prior to the passage of this Act may lawfully transfer the weapon to a member of their family, through inheritance or otherwise. The Act directs the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to develop a procedure for issuance of a voluntary certificate of possession to show lawful possession of an assault weapon prior to the effective date of the Act. A gun owner is not required to apply for the certificate, but a certificate provides a conclusive means of proving lawful possession prior to the passage of this Act. The Department is not permitted to retain copies of issued certificates or identifying information of any applicant. The Act also adds a violation of this Act to the list of predicate crimes for possession of a weapon in a school zone.”
According to Sigler, the bill lists 63 separate firearms by name, and includes rifles, pistols and shotguns. It contains a “voluntary” provision, which would allow anyone who currently owns a restricted firearm to obtain a certificate from the state, which attests that the firearm was owned pre-ban.
“This shifts the burden from the state to a potential defendant to prove they owned it before the ban,” Sigler said. “This shifting of the burden is unconstitutional and flies in the face of case law.”
The bill also criminalizes the sale of restricted firearms, which essentially makes them worthless.
“Let’s assume someone has been collecting firearms and the purpose of their collection is to increase in value as part of their estate planning. If this bill is signed into law, their collection is now worth nothing. One collector who contacted us has a collection valued at $1 million. Now, it will be worthless because the bill prohibits him from selling it.”
The legislation also prohibits anyone from transporting a prohibited firearm through the state.
“There’s a Commerce Clause problem here,” Sigler said. “You can’t get to New York City from Baltimore without going through Delaware. This will impact interstate commerce. This isn’t just Delaware.”
HB 451 prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing firearms or ammunition.
According to the legislation: “This bill makes a person under the age of 21 prohibited from purchasing, owning, possessing, or controlling a firearm or ammunition of a firearm except under limited circumstances. Those circumstances are if the person is 18 years of age or older and an active member of the Armed Forces, a qualified law-enforcement officer, or has a license to carry a concealed deadly weapon. The Act does not apply to shotguns and shotgun ammunition, muzzle-loading rifles, and deadly weapons other than firearms, thus allowing those persons who are 18 to 21 years of age to purchase, own, control or possess such deadly weapons. Persons under the age of 21 may possess or control a firearm for the purpose of engaging in lawful hunting, instruction, sporting, or recreational activity while under the direct supervision of a person 21 year of age or older. This bill also makes changes to § 1445 of Title 11—Unlawfully dealing with a dangerous weapon to be consistent with the changes made to § 1448 of Title 11. In addition, the bill only criminalizes the control of a weapon which by compressed air or by spring discharges or projects a pellet, slug, or bullet by a person who is not a qualified law enforcement officer if such pellet, slug, or bullet is larger than .177 caliber shot.”
“More than 58,220 Americans were killed in Vietnam. Of that number, more than 61% killed were under 21 years of age,” Sigler pointed out.
SS 1 for SB 6 bans magazines capable of holding more than 17 rounds.
According to the legislation: “This Act creates the Delaware Large Capacity Magazine Prohibition Act of 2021. The Act includes clear definitions for the term “large-capacity magazine,” as an ammunition feeding device with a capacity to accept more than 17 rounds of ammunition. After enactment, possession of large-capacity magazine will be a class B misdemeanor for a first offense and a class E felony for any subsequent offense. Those who possess a prohibited large-capacity magazine when this Act takes effect must, by June 30, 2022, relinquish the large-capacity magazine to a law-enforcement agency in this State. This Act establishes a buyback program for large-capacity magazines, to be overseen by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.”
There is no grandfather clause in this bill. Anyone who owns a magazine capable of holding more than 17 rounds must surrender it to police for a “buy back” or risk misdemeanor charges for the first offense and felony charges the second time they’re caught with a 17+ magazine.
The DSSA has learned the state will pay the owner $10 per magazine, but they have only allocated $45,000 for the “buy back,” which will only pay for 4,500 magazines.
“This would cover about a quarter of the magazines in one county, and it covers retail, wholesale and private ownership,” Sigler said. “This is an unconstitutional taking as defined by the Fifth Amendment.
Magpul, one of the most popular manufacturers of AR-15 magazines and accessories, has a production facility in Georgetown, Delaware. It employs more than 90 workers. A Republican state senator added an amendment to the magazine ban bill that would have allowed Magpul to continue manufacturing standard-capacity magazines at their Delaware facility, even though the magazines would be prohibited in the state. Democrats rejected the amendment. Another Senator, a Democrat, said he did not want Magpul shipping their magazines to states where people can purchase magazines that are prohibited in Delaware.
“In other words, the Democrats are telling businesses what they are allowed to produce here in Delaware,” Sigler said. “If they don’t like the product, if it doesn’t fit their political agenda, they don’t want them here.”
The DSSA has learned that Magpul will likely move its production facility if the bill is signed into law, which will reduce the number of standard-capacity magazines available nationwide, and impact millions of gun owners.
Officials at Magpul did not immediately return calls or emails seeking comment for this story.
The front lines
In a press release, Gov. Carney promised to sign the three bills.
“We have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent tragedies like we’ve seen across the country from happening here in Delaware,” Carney said. “This is a historic, meaningful package of legislation and I look forward to seeing these bills on my desk this session.”
The legislation is strongly supported by the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, an affiliate of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun groups.
“Delaware must question what kinds of deadly weapons we allow to be sold, and to whom, in our state. To that end, we applaud the General Assembly for filing both a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons and a bill raising the minimum age for purchase,” said Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence Executive Director Traci Murphy.
For Sigler and the DSSA, the content of the bills and the speed that they’re being fast-tracked through the General Assembly is unprecedented.
“This is the most egregious attack on the rights of law-abiding individuals I have ever seen, and I’ve been a Second Amendment Advocate most of my life,” Sigler said. “It is an organized multi-faceted, multi-front attack. It’s an attack by the Democratic party not just on the Second Amendment but on the entire Bill of Rights. This is an organized conspiracy.”
The DSSA has retained counsel, who have already started preparing lawsuits. However, it will be hard-pressed to find the financial means to pay its lawyers. The group is seeking help from all quarters. Click here for the DSSA’s donation page.
“We are going to fight this even if everyone I know has to sell their houses to pay for it,” Sigler said. “If we lose this fight, Delaware will become just another New Jersey, California or New York. In terms of our gun rights, we are not behind enemy lines, not yet, but we are definitely on the front lines.”
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