DOVER, Del. (AP) - A Democratic proposal to ban the sale of semi-automatic guns that resemble military weapons failed to clear a Senate committee in Delaware on Wednesday amid strident opposition from gun rights advocates.
The bill failed to get enough votes from committee members after a hearing before a standing-room-only crowd in the Senate chamber, where opponents outnumbered supporters by about 7-to-1.
Democratic Gov. John Carney called for the ban on so-called assault weapons after the February shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead.
“I am extremely disappointed that the full Delaware Senate will not get a chance to vote on Senate Bill 163,” Carney said in a prepared statement.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bryan Townsend, a Newark Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor, didn’t rule out trying to circumvent the committee process to try to bring the legislation to the floor. Townsend said it would be “shameful” if the bill did not get a vote in the Senate.
Republican Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, one of the committee members opposed to the bill, suggested Democrats have acted shamefully in trying to push the bill for what he said were political purposes.
“It should be made clear that today’s outcome … was the preferred and designed outcome of the Senate Democrats,” said Lavelle, taking aim at Democratic president pro tem David McBride.
“Senator McBride and his leadership team never wanted this bill to see the floor, and they want to pin its demise on me for political gain in an election year,” said Lavelle, who is up for re-election this fall.
The bill, based on a Maryland law, identifies dozens of “assault long guns” and “assault pistols” that would be banned. The ban would extend to “copycat” weapons, including any centerfire rifle that has both a detachable magazine and a folding stock, and any pistol or centerfire rifle with a fixed magazine holding more than 10 rounds.
The legislation would prohibit the sale and transfer of such firearms, as well as transportation across state lines into Delaware, with certain exceptions. It would not ban possession of weapons purchased legally before the legislation’s effective date, but it would impose restrictions on where they could be possessed and transported.
The proposed ban takes aim at gun ownership by civilians and would not apply to armored car guards, police, members of the military, or government officials acting within the scope of official business. It also would allow retired police officers to have weapons sold or transferred to them by their law-enforcement agencies on retirement, or which they purchased or obtained for official use before retirement.
“The status quo on gun safety is not working,” Townsend told committee members, saying his bill is an attempt to deter mass shootings while respecting Second Amendment rights.
“We should not wait for a mass shooting to occur before we decide to ban the firearms that are known to facilitate mass shootings,” he said.
Opponents argue that the measure would violate Delaware’s constitution, which was amended in 1987 to ensure that individuals have the right to carry guns for self-defense.
“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,” the constitution reads.
Francis Pileggi, a lawyer who has successfully argued on behalf of gun rights in two Delaware Supreme Court cases, told lawmakers the proposed ban likely would not survive a constitutional challenge.
Opponents also reject the notion that the proposed ban would result in less gun crime or fewer mass shootings.
“The bill does nothing to protect our children and their schools, our families and the communities they live in, or law enforcement,” said former Dover police chief James Hosfelt.
Hosfelt said he knew of only two homicides in Delaware in which such a firearm was used, both being justifiable homicides by law enforcement.
Hosfelt, now an elected county official, described the proposed ban as “a very bad solution in search of a problem that does not exist.”
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