DOVER, Delaware — A bill expanding criminal background checks on gun purchases in Delaware to include most transactions between private sellers and buyers won state Senate passage Thursday and is headed to Gov. Jack Markell for his signature.
The Senate voted 13-8 to approve the legislation, part of a package of gun-control measures proposed by Markell in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting in December.
The administration and supporters of the bill say requiring background checks on private sales will make it more difficult for people prohibited from having guns to get them.
"Background checks are incredibly effective in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals," Andy Lippstone, Markell's chief counsel, told lawmakers.
Opponents argued that expanding Delaware's background check system will not reduce gun crime because criminals will ignore the new law, just as they ignore current laws prohibiting them from possessing firearms.
"The legislation will only affect law-abiding citizens," said Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown. "This is not going to hamper the people who trade guns in the dark corners of the city... This isn't going to stop them from getting their hands on a weapon if they want that firearm."
Markell said he looks forward to signing the bill into law, which will take effect July 1.
"This is one piece of what we believe is a commonsense package of proposals to keep weapons out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them," he said.
In addition to expanded background checks, Markell is pushing for new laws to require mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns within 48 hours, bans on the sale of high-capacity magazines and military-style assault-type weapons, and restrictions on guns near schools.
Sponsors of the bill have suggested that people who fail background checks at federally licensed gun dealers turn to private sales to get guns, but they can't quantify how often that happens.
"I can't tell you what the exact figure is, ... but it is greater than zero," Markell said. "I can't tell you exactly how much greater than zero it is, but ... if it saves a handful of lives, that alone makes this worthwhile."
Lawmakers approved the bill after the House added 10 amendments supported by the National Rifle Association, including one prohibiting the state from using information from background checks to establish any gun registration system, which some opponents claim is the real intent of the bill.
The bill exempts gun transfers between immediate family members and those in which active-duty or retired law enforcement officers qualified to have firearms are the buyers. It also protects private sellers from liability for the actions of a buyer after a lawful transfer that includes a background check.
Licensed firearms dealers will be able to charge up to $30 for performing background checks for private transfers. Anyone who knowingly sells or transfers a gun in violation of the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor upon a first offense. A subsequent offense would be a felony.
Under state law, a bill creating a new misdemeanor, which typically would be handled in a lower court, requires a two-thirds majority vote. Supporters of the bill avoided the two-thirds majority requirement, under which the bill would have needed 14 affirmative votes, by adding a provision giving Superior Court exclusive jurisdiction over offenses for background check violations.