Gun sales boom, while state locks down
Gun sales have increased in the area since the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., according to several local gun retailers, but they also said that sales had already been rising because of the number of home invasions reported in the area in recent months.
In addition, AR-15s, the semi-automatic rifle reported to have been used in the Newtown shooting, are nowhere to be found — but not because they’ve been removed from the shelves. Rather, it’s because retailers can’t keep them in stock. Local retailers said that is due to low supply from wholesalers and gun buyers’ desire to purchase them now, as they fear that they will be banned.
That’s a concern that appeared to be warranted this week, after a joint press conference with Gov. Jack Markell, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, in which they outlined proposed policies that would ban large-capacity magazines and military weapons as part of Delaware’s answer to the national discussion of gun safety and tragedies such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary that claimed the lives of 26 people — 20 of them first-graders.
“It’s an irrefutable right that we need to be safe out shopping, at the movies, at the park, at school and at our places of worship,” said Delaware Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security Lew Schiliro. He added that the officials were standing together as legislators and law enforcement officers, but mostly as “parents and grandparents.”
“There is no magic answer, but these measures are a step in the right direction,” Schiliro said.
Even before the press conference Monday announcing the proposed measures, two local retailers confirmed to the Coastal Point that handgun sales were on the rise. Mark Derrickson of M&L Guns in Dagsboro and Gerry Hocker of G&E/Hocker’s Supermarket and G&E/Hardware were in agreement that sales of handguns have recently risen.
“Oh, very much so,” said Derrickson, who has been in business selling guns for almost a year, having taken up the business after retiring. “Big time.”
Derrickson he had almost sold out of all of his handguns in recent weeks, including .9 mm guns, .380s, .357s, .38s and some .22s. He said he was selling guns to both seasoned gun owners and people who had never owned a gun before.
“I had a guy in here 10 minutes ago that had never had a gun in his life,” he said, adding that the customer has purchased a .9 mm handgun.
He added that he could “sell five a day” of the AR-15s but can’t get any from the dealers.
Hocker stated that handguns sales and concealed weapon permits had also been on the rise, “particularly for women and senior citizens,” adding that “people want to feel secure in their homes.”
As for the AR-15s , he said that people would call and ask if they had any in, and if they did, would say, ‘Hold it for me — I’ll be in,” and wouldn’t even ask about the price. That was before they sold out. He said retailers cannot get the AR-15s back in stock.
Both men said the AR-15s are mostly used for target shooting or for sport, a point state Rep. Michael Barbieri refuted in Monday’s press conference on the five new proposed gun regulations for Delaware.
“People argue that guns don’t kill people, people do. Well, the gun is the mechanism,” he said. “I agree with the Attorney General. There is absolutely no reason for an assault weapon to be purchased or used. It is not a sport. It is a weapon of mass destruction.”
State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, who was also in attendance at Monday’s announcement, added that “This has nothing to do with taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. It has everything to do with protecting our children.” He added that he had received many comments and emails, both for and against enhanced gun control — some of which had come from law enforcement officials. He then said that, as a retired Delaware State Police officer, in addressing the men and women in uniform, “Some of your colleagues in uniform will be opposed to what we are trying to do here today, which makes absolutely no sense to me.”
“We dress you up, we train you, we put you in bulletproof vests to protect your life, and then we are going to allow the bad guys to have better weapons than you have? It makes no sense. You guys need to get the message out there to everybody that this is to protect you, as well.”
Biden added this week that, as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard, he is assigned an assault weapon, and when it is not in use, “It resides in an armory. … These are weapons of mass destruction that are meant for battle,” he emphasized.
He acknowledged that passing the proposed measure banning the manufacture, sale, delivery and unlawful possession of military-style weapons will “be a fight.”
“Assault weapons don’t have a place,” he said, outside of military use, “and this does not infringe on 2nd Amendment rights, which I believe in.”
NRA: Proposals part of Markell’s ‘anti-gun’ agenda
The National Rifle Association disagreed with that view in a statement issued immediately after the Delaware press conference, saying that the proposed measures are part of an “anti-gun” agenda by the governor.
“Gov. Markell is not as interested in protecting our children as he is in pushing the anti-gun agenda he first announced in his 2008 campaign. Not only is he rejecting the Supreme Court’s repeated ruling that the 2nd Amendment protects a fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms, but his proposals directly violate Article I, Section 20, of the Delaware Constitution, which 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.’”
The proposed bill would allow for the “continued possession and use under certain circumstances of weapons purchased prior to the effective date of the ban.”
During the announcement on Monday, Denn pointed to a Citizens Crime Commission of New York report that states that the 30 mass shootings (those with four or more victims killed) that occurred in the United States from 1982 through 2012 all had one thing in common.
“Although they were all unique, they all involved one or more large-capacity ammunition magazines,” he said, defining large capacity as magazines having the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds for any handgun and more than five rounds for any rifle or shotgun. “It is an essential piece of equipment when the shooter wants to shoot many people,” he said.
In a press release issued after the announcement, the Governor’s Office stated that “acknowledging that thousands of law-abiding Delawareans currently possess large-capacity magazines lawfully, this law would make possession unlawful ‘only if it occurs in a public place (which would include highways, schools, parks, restaurants, bars, and similar locations), and within 20 feet of a firearm capable of accepting such magazine.’”
It would also “exempt certain shooting ranges from the definition of ‘public place,’ so that the possession and use of large-capacity magazines at such ranges would not be prohibited.”
The mere thought of a ban on the weapon already had people racing to purchase them, according to Derrikson — who, along with Hocker, was interviewed before the governor’s proposals were announced.
“It’s like anything. If people found out their favorite car was going out of production, they would all be clambering to buy one,” said Derrickson.
When asked if a tragedy like the one in Newtown affects his views on guns, as a retailer, Derrickson said he felt “disgust” over the shooting and that it was “another instance where guns got into the wrong hands,” but he drew the line at welcoming more regulations.
“Anytime you have the government banning things, it is just a slippery slope,” he said.
Hocker said he questions how people obtained the guns involved whenever there is news of such tragedies.
“I am certainly for the right to own, carry and sell guns. I like to think we are doing all we can to keep guns only in hands of law-abiding citizens, but I always wonder, was it stolen or did they purchase it?”
Legislation would require background checks for private sales, reporting of theft
Another portion of the legislation proposed this week in Delaware would include mandatory reporting of lost or stolen weapons within 48 hours of the discovery of the theft or loss.
Markell said that, without the mandatory reporting — which is not a requirement in Delaware now but is a requirement in seven states and Washington, D.C. — there is little police can do to track a gun that a person says was lost or stolen and that is subsequently used in a crime.
In order to purchase a firearm in Delaware, a person needs to show I.D. and fill out Form 4473, which goes to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF). An instant check is done with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). From start to finish, the process can be done in about an hour. As a result of the check, the applicant and would-be buyer gets a response of “approved,” “denied” or “delayed.”
As it stands now, a person is prohibited from owning a firearm in Delaware if they have been convicted of a felony; convicted of any misdemeanor involving physical injury or domestic violence (unless more than five years has elapsed from the date of the conviction); convicted of any crime involving the unlawful use, possession or sale of any illegal drug; is under 25 years old and has been previously convicted as a juvenile of a crime which, if committed by an adult, would constitute a felony; is subject to a Protection From Abuse Order issued by a competent court; or has previously been committed to a hospital or mental institution for treatment for a mental disorder.
Markell explained this week that, in 2011, he had proposed four gun safety measures — three of which were passed, including passing a law to allow Delaware to share mental health records with the federal government for the instant checks.
“The NICS has names of persons prohibited from owning a firearm, but that database is only as good as the information it contains,” he said. “Delaware was one of 10 states that did not allow the mental health information to be shared, so we passed a law to change that.”
He said, since then, Delaware has ranked second in the nation, per capita, of names reported as prohibited.
Hocker added that, for retailers, there are plenty of checks and balances, and he as a retailer gets checked up on by the ATF regularly, and he said there is quite a paper trail for guns purchased by a dealer.
But, after the sale, the waters are murkier.
“There is a paper trail on a gun, but once it leaves the retailer, the consumer can sell it to anyone they want,” Hocker acknowledged.
In an attempt to circumvent such sales, Markell said this week that another one of the proposed measures would require background checks for private sales — something that would affect almost half of Delaware’s gun sales.
“Sixty percent of gun sales in Delaware involve a licensed dealer,” he said. “A system that ignores 4 out of every 10 gun sales is a broken one, and we need to fix it.”
The fifth proposal announced on Monday would ban possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school. Anyone possessing a gun on their own property would be exempt, though, so neighbors of school properties would be able to keep their guns at home.
Officials call for multi-pronged effort, unity to prevent future tragedy
The governor reiterated that the gun safety measures proposed this week were one part of a three-part answer to tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook, including mental health and school safety measures.
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, issued a statement after the Delaware announcement.
“In the month since the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn., our country has taken a sober look at the causes of and remedies to this violence,” he said. “Too many families across our country, including right here in Delaware, have endured the pain caused by gun violence in our communities.
“But it’s not enough to simply express our disdain for these tragedies — we must come together to confront them,” Coons said. “That’s what Gov. Markell, Lt. Gov. Denn and Attorney General Biden have done today. These ideas should be part of a constructive debate and discussion here in Delaware, and it is my hope that they result in progress that ensures fewer Delaware families will have to grieve the loss of a loved one to gun violence.
“I am optimistic that the sponsors of this legislation in the General Assembly will work with leaders in law enforcement and all interested communities throughout the state to move forward together,” he concluded.
Markell thanked everyone for coming together on the issue and said that the safety and protection of citizens was something that had to be done.
“Reasonable gun safety laws, improvements to school safety and increased access to mental health treatment are three ways we can do better,” he said. “This package of gun-safety measures is directed at individuals who might impose violence with a gun.”
He concluded by saying he was confident in the proposed measures but expected a respectful debate and differing opinions.
“I respect the 2nd Amendment. But these measures proposed today are entirely constitutional. I expect a robust debate, but I believe this is not a debate about the 2nd Amendment.”
He then said he hoped Delawareans could show “our friends in Washington, who are having parallel discussions on these very issues, that here in Delaware, we can disagree without being disagreeable, and maybe even find some common ground to address what is one of those most difficult issues of our time.”
The Governor’s Office said legislation on each of the proposals will be introduced in the General Assembly over the next two weeks, with all of the bills expected to be introduced by Jan. 24. To view the five proposals in their entirety, visit http://news.delaware.gov/2013/01/14/governor-markell-lt-gov-denn-ag-bide....