The House chamber at Legislative Hall was packed on Tuesday. The House Judiciary Committee had opened up the floor for public comment on House Bill 35, which proposes that background checks be performed not only when guns are purchased at a dealer, as Delaware law states now, but also be performed when guns are purchased from individuals or transferred from one owner to another, with the exception of transferring ownership to an immediate family member, in the private party sale of antique firearms, the return of a pawned gun or when the party involved is a qualified active duty or retired police officer. The proposed background checks would be performed by licensed firearms dealers and a record of these checks would be kept by those dealers.
The committee had allotted two hours for public comment, but so many members of the public turned out that it was not enough time for all who had signed up to speak.
Four speakers were called down at a time, two in favor and two against. A wide array of community members, including police officers, school principals and even Dover Mayor Carleton Carey spoke out.
Many of those in support of the bill argued that if passed, it would protect citizens from criminals who obtained guns through private sale.
"This legislation is in jeopardy of failing because we are looking for the perfect instead of the good," said Lt. Thomas Brackin, a Delaware State Police Trooper and president of the State Troopers Association. "This legislation closes a loophole. We all know that 98 percent of gun owners are law-abiding, responsible citizens, but there are, however, others that would take advantage of a system that says they can sell these guns. If this is passed and it persuades one law abiding person to go ahead with the background check, then that is one more gun that doesn't fall into the hands of the wrong person."
Others in support of the bill expressed the view that if stricter gun prevent just one crime, then it is worth it.
"I feel that as a whole we need more stringent laws in Delaware. I think that special emphasis should be placed on military style weapons and hand guns, as they pose the biggest threat, said Frank Cannon, a self-proclaimed gun enthusiast and resident of Seaford. "It would not offend me in the least if every gun purchased required a background check, especially if it means it might stop someone from committing a crime involving a firearm.
Those against the bill argued that the measure would not solve any problems, that criminals will always find a way to get guns and that this bill would infringe on Second Amendment rights.
"I strongly disagree with House Bill 35," said Cecil Faircloth. "It will not prevent any crimes. Criminals will just buy guns from criminals. Drug dealers are going to buy guns from drug dealers. None of those people are going to do background checks. All this is going to do is eat away at American citizens' Second Amendment rights."
Page 2 of 2 - One of the aspects of the bill that received a lot of criticism was the proposal to mandate that gun dealers keep a registration of guns that have been purchased.
"Registering guns for law-abiding citizens is not only putting a bullseye on our homes where illegal people will want our guns, but it's putting a bullseye on the people who don't have any protection," said Linda Bond, of Camden.
"Having guns registered leads to gun confiscation," said Beth Parsons, owner of Shooter's Choice in Dover.
The bill made it out of committee with a seven-to-four vote, and will now be presented for a discussion and vote on the House floor on Tuesday.
"I'm opposed to the bill," said Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R-Hartly). "It doesn't keep guns out of the hands of criminals. One good point that I heard during the public comments was that we have yet to see numbers of privately sold guns in crimes."
Valarie Longhurst (D-Bear), House Majority Leader and primary sponsor of the bill, said she would create amendments based on some of the suggestions made during the public comment section. She wouldn't comment on which suggestions she was referring to, but said that the new amendments would be incorporated into the bill in time for its presentation on Tuesday.
She also responded to the suggestion that the premise of the bill was on Second Amendment rights.
"Saying that this bill is unconstitutional is a big misrepresentation," she said. "You have the right to bear arms, but the government has the right to say you can't walk down the street with your gun exposed."