Delawareans under the age of 21 would be prohibited from purchasing, owning, possessing or controlling a firearm or ammunition under a bill passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday.
The move comes just days after the House voted to ban most semi-automatic firearms.
Exceptions include if the person is an active member of the armed forces or a qualified law-enforcement officer who possesses or uses a firearm as part of their job.
Concealed Deadly Weapon Permit holders would also be exempt from the law.
House Bill 451 does not apply to shotguns and shotgun ammunition, muzzle-loading rifles and deadly weapons other than firearms.
Delawareans under the age of 21 would be allowed to possess or control a firearm for hunting, instruction, sporting, or recreational activity while under the direct supervision of a person 21 years of age or older.
“We have not been on the news with our own version of Buffalo or Uvalde but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to the growing trend of mass shootings by young people,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, the bill’s sponsor.
“There’s also conclusive scientific research shows that human brains are still developing in young adults ages 18 to 21 which impacts with decision making, self control, aggressive impulses and risk taking behavior.”
Mass shooters have typically been men between the ages of 18 and 21, Schwartzkopf pointed out.
The age to purchase any alcohol and tobacco products in Delaware is 21, though numerous Republicans noted Delawareans do not have a constitutionally guaranteed right to drink or smoke.
Their right to bear arms is protected, and not just by the United States Constitution.
Delaware’s state Constitution says, “ A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and State, and for hunting and recreational use.”
“Frankly, before all these bills came up, I thought that that was just absolutely airtight,” said Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro. “ I do not see why…a legal abiding person is required to give up their rights when you have language like that in your own state Constitution.”
“This age-old argument between me and you about constitutional, whether we have the right to do this or we do not have the right to do this, we’re never going to settle it,” Schwartzkopf responded. “It has to be settled in the court and I’d just as soon get it there.”
Schwartzkopf said he’d “live with whatever the judge says.”
Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, said he thinks the bill could also be unconstitutional because it deprives gun owners between the ages of 18 and 21 of their property without remuneration.
“Right now, 18, 19 and 20-year-olds do legally possess these items,” Spiegelman said. “This bill says that they will no longer be able to legally possess these items without performing other things which have costs associated with them…The concern I have is that is constitutional taking of property.”
“I don’t believe so,” Schwartzkopf responded. “They could still use their weapons that they own — they just can’t do it by themselves. They have that supervision of someone 21 or older.”
In a blog post Monday, the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action said the bill violates Delawareans’ Second Amendment rights.
The bill infringes on the rights of people “who are legally adults and are deemed old enough to vote, serve on a jury, enter into binding contracts, get married, and enlist in the military, unless they first pay fees to the government and go through red tape to get their rights back,” the NRA wrote.
Republican lawmakers were unsuccessful in attaching the following amendments to the bill:
- House Amendment 2: Exempts rimfire rifles and ammunition from the list of deadly weapons.
- House Amendment 4: Exempts married persons under 21 who own or jointly own a home or property.
- House Amendment 5: Exempts married persons under 21 who have been married for at least 6 months.
- House Amendment 7: Allow persons between 18 and 21 to purchase, own, possess, or control firearms if their parent or guardian consents in writing at the time of purchase.
Two Republican-backed amendments were successfully passed and attached to the bill:
- House Amendment 3: Exempts members of the Delaware National Guard.
- House Amendment 6: Ensures a person who has control of a paintball gun will not be found guilty of unlawfully dealing with a dangerous weapon.
Schwartzkopf added an amendment that allows individuals under the age of 21 to possess or control certain firearms that are otherwise excluded from the bill while legally hunting during hunting season.
The amendment also makes clear that a person would not be in violation of the law if they use a firearm to defend themselves or their property so long as the use of force is justifiable under the state’s self defense laws.
“I don’t know that you can ever take all these guns out of [mass shooters’] hands and make them not do that,” Schwartzkopf concluded. “I don’t know if we can do that. But we can make it harder.”
The House also unanimously passed two bills affecting guns Tuesday.
HB 276, sponsored by Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover, makes clear that qualifying patients under the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act are not disqualified under Delaware law from possessing a firearm. That remains illegal at the federal level, but Delaware would not seek to prosecute such an offense.
The bill passed 41 to 0 and heads to the Senate for consideration.
HB 423, sponsored by Rep. Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, would reinstitute Delaware’s Firearm Transaction Approval Program, known as FTAP.
Federal law allows states to conduct background checks through a state agency instead of directly through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS.
Delaware used to operate its own system, but as a cost-saving measure in 2011, lawmakers voted to abolish the program and have federal firearm licensees conduct checks directly with the federal system.
HB 423 passed 41 to 0 and heads to the Senate for consideration.
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