Delaware bill requiring permits to buy handguns clears first hurdle

A proposal to require anyone in Delaware wanting to buy a handgun to first be fingerprinted, undergo training and obtain permission from the state cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday after a public hearing in a Democrat-led Senate committee.

The bill was released by the Senate Judiciary Committee with no Republican support. It now heads to the Finance Committee for consideration of the estimated costs involved in setting up a "permit to purchase" program. Under Senate rules, however, the Finance Committee is not required to hold a hearing, or even to meet, to consider the legislation. Instead, the bill is expected to simply be passed to the full Senate for a floor vote next Tuesday.

The measure is similar to one that passed the Senate in 2021 but stalled in the House. Previous iterations dating to 2019 made even less headway in the General Assembly.

The bill would prohibit licensed gun dealers, as well as private sellers, from transferring a handgun to any person unless that individual has a "qualified purchaser permit." In order to obtain a permit, a person would have to complete a firearms training course and be fingerprinted by the State Bureau of Identification. The SBI would have 30 days to investigate the person and grant a permit if the applicant is qualified. The agency would be allowed to retain information submitted by an applicant for an indefinite amount of time.

If a permit is granted, it would be valid for only 180 days. A permit could be revoked, and any guns purchased with it seized, if the director of the SBI later makes a determination "supported by probable cause," that the person poses a danger to himself or others by having a gun.


The bill includes exemptions for active and retired law enforcement officers, and for those who already have concealed carry permits. It also provides for vouchers covering the full cost of a firearms training course for individuals with household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guideline.

Supporters of the permitting proposal argue that it would help reduce the number of gun homicides and suicides in Delaware and make it more difficult for people to make illegal "straw purchases" of handguns on behalf of those prohibited by law from possessing them.

"This is a common sense measure," said chief sponsor Elizabeth Lockman, a Wilmington Democrat.

Opponents argue that the bill would impose costly and unnecessary burdens on law-abiding citizens and, like other gun-control measures, be ignored by the criminals responsible for Delaware’s gun violence problem.

"Many of you argue that Senate Bill 2 is common sense gun control, and I beg to differ," said Corrina Slater. "Common sense gun control would be holding criminals responsible for their gun crimes."

"But this isn’t about commons sense." Slater said. "This is about your need to control law abiding citizens’ ability to access their Second Amendment right."

Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, an advocate for stricter gun laws who spoke in favor of the bill, said it will not inhibit law-abiding citizens from acquiring handguns. But Jennings said it would make it significantly more difficult to do so for people who should not have them.

Critics took state officials to task for not enforcing Delaware's existing gun laws, claiming that prosecutors too often reduce or dismiss firearm charges.

According to the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, or DELJIS, law enforcement officials made more than 8.900 arrests from January 2010 through December 2020 for possession of a firearm by a person prohibited — an average of more than two arrests a day for more than a decade. Less than 25% of those arrests, roughly 2,200, resulted in convictions, according to agency data. During that same period, there were more than 100 arrests for straw purchases of firearms, but only 12 convictions, according to DELJIS.