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Delaware lawmakers seek to tighten gun control laws

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(The Center Square) — Delaware lawmakers pushed through a series of gun control measures on the final day of their legislative session, including a proposal that would restrict firearms on college campuses.

One Democratic-led proposal would set new restrictions on the right to carry at higher education institutions by adding them to the state’s School Safe Zone Act, which already restricts firearms at kindergarten, elementary, secondary and vocational-technical schools. The measure passed the House and Senate and is now on Democratic Gov. John Carney’s desk, awaiting action.

The bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. Cyndie Romer, D-Newark, argues that allowing guns on college campuses “undermines the sense of security that should exist on our colleges and universities.”

“College campuses are dynamic, and often stressful environments where emotions can run high increasing the likelihood for tragic incidents,” Romer said during a recent hearing on the bill.

“Introducing firearms in spaces where individuals may be experiencing mental health challenges raises concerns about the potential for self-harm or suicide.”

The proposal was amended by lawmakers to reduce the charge for violating the proposed ban from a felony to a misdemeanor, but the National Rifle Association said the proposal still could “lead to confusion among concealed carry permit holders who may not realize they are on property owned by a college or university.”

Another proposal awaiting action by Carney would redefine a firearm as “a weapon from which a shot, projectile or other object is designed or may readily be converted to be discharged by force of an explosive, whether operable or inoperable, loaded or unloaded.”

If approved, the proposal would also create a new category of “projectile weapons” that include bows, crossbows, crossbow bolts, spears and air guns larger than .177 caliber, among other items.

Under the state’s criminal codes, a firearm includes “any weapon from which a shot, projectile or other object may be discharged by force of combustion, explosive, gas and/or mechanical means, whether operable or inoperable, loaded or unloaded.” BB guns are not included.

But critics say that overly broad definition means many non-lethal weapons, like slingshots, paint guns, and even pumpkin cannons, are considered firearms that are subject to the state’s gun control laws.

Other gun control bills sent to Carney’s desk included a proposal to make the unsafe storage of a firearm in a vehicle a class A misdemeanor if the person knowingly leaves a firearm unattended in a vehicle and another to create a Voluntary Firearms Do-Not-Sell Registry in which someone may voluntarily enroll for the purpose of being prohibited from obtaining a firearm.

Passage of the bills comes after the state was hit with a lawsuit over legislation signed by Carney in May, which would require Delaware gun owners to get a permit to purchase a handgun after undergoing fingerprinting and a background check and completing an approved firearm training course.

Backers of the plan argue it will reduce gun violence, suicides and homicides and crack down on illegal “straw purchases” of handguns on behalf of those prohibited by law from possessing them.

But the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association Inc. and Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law, arguing that the fundamental civil rights of lawful gun owners in the First State are “being trampled on by overbearing legislation that defies controlling legal authority.”

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