‘Permit to purchase’ gun bill is now law. What it means for Delaware

Gun Rights

Gov. John Carney signed a “permit to purchase” handgun bill into law Thursday afternoon, which advocates of the legislation say will reduce gun violence across Delaware.

The law, which already faces a lawsuit less than four hours after it was signed, will require people to receive a permit and complete gun safety training before purchasing a handgun in Delaware.

“It’s beyond my comprehension somebody could pick up a gun and shoot somebody with it, but it happens — oftentimes for no apparent reason,” said Carney, who was flanked by lawmakers who sponsored the bill, gun violence survivors and gun safety advocates. “It’s sad, but if you can prevent them from picking up a gun in the first place then we’ve got a chance.”

The new law won’t take effect for 18 months, giving departments time to prepare for implementation and legislators the opportunity for additional enhancements.

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“Moms Demand Action volunteers like me have been advocating for our lawmakers to enact permit-to-purchase into law for years, and we’re grateful to Governor Carney and our House and Senate gun sense champions who made it happen today,” Luann D’Agostino Manley, a volunteer with the Delaware chapter of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement following the signing. “With Delaware’s gun homicide rate still higher than the national average, we need to use every tool available to reduce gun violence and keep our communities safe – including this life-saving measure.”

The lawsuit, filed Thursday by five plaintiffs including Delaware attorney Thomas S. Neuberger, the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association Inc. and the Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club, challenges the constitutionality of the new law and is focused on “vindicating fundamental civil rights being trampled on by overbearing legislation that defies controlling legal authority.”

What does the new law entail?

Once the law is in place, applicants will have to pay for fingerprinting and the required training. There will be no fee to obtain the permit, according to Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 2.

The permits will be valid for two years and the training course for five years. The State Bureau of Identification has up to 30 days to issue a permit and the law creates a registry of all lawful handgun transfers.

Carney said his understanding is there is a registration process, but that it’s not permanent.

“There are reasons to have some level of permanency so that you can check when somebody is a suspect for some kind of crime,” Carney said. “I do hear that complaint and I know for those who are serious gun advocates, that’s one of their biggest complaints.”

Those who supported the legislation argued the measure would cut down on straw purchases of guns, as well as homicides and suicides. Lawmakers who opposed the bill argued the regulations violate the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and warned that constitutional challenges would be brought against the legislation if passed.

State lawmakers have worked on the bill since 2019, and its sponsors and supporters have reminded opponents that they’ve had years to work across the aisle to make the bill more palatable.

More: Delaware Senate passes ‘permit to purchase’ handgun bill along party lines

Expect legal challenge

Delaware Republicans have come out in opposition to the bill, mirroring resistance by gun rights advocates to place restrictions on gun ownership. 

The National Rifle Association, on its website earlier this week, called the legislation “extreme” and said it would impose “a Maryland-style ‘handgun qualified purchase card’ and a handgun transfer registry, creating a perpetual cycle of costs and delays to maintain your ability to purchase a handgun.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Virginia overturned Maryland’s 11-year-old law in November, claiming the handgun licensing statute violated the Second Amendment — like Delaware’s law, Maryland’s required fingerprinting and firearms training.

The ruling is one of the first to overturn state gun laws following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision that gun regulations must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” to survive court challenges. 

More: Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decision demands courts look to history, tradition

That same appeals court agreed in January to reconsider the case. That matter is pending.

“I welcome those challenges,” Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings said after the bill was signed, but before the filing of the lawsuit challenging the state’s new permit to purchase law. “We haven’t lost one of them yet.”

While watching what the 4th Circuit does, Jennings said that court’s rulings have not had “the final say on constitutionality within their jurisdiction.”

Send tips or story ideas to Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299 or eparra@delawareonline.com.

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