Building on the state's efforts to implement responsible gun safety laws, Governor Markell today signed legislation to close a loophole that allows people to purchase firearms without passing a background check.
House Bill 325, which received final approval from the General Assembly Wednesday, extends from three to 25 days the amount of time for a background check to be completed before a gun buyer may complete his or her purchase. It will not affect the vast majority of purchases since more than 91 percent of background checks are completed within minutes or, at most, hours.
The three-day limit has become known as the "Charleston Loophole" after last year's mass shooting in which nine people were murdered in a Charleston, S.C. church. The suspected gunman, Dylann Roof, purchased the firearm used in the killings through the delayed transaction loophole after a background check took longer than three days. It was later determined that the sale should have been denied.
The effort to enact House Bill 325 was led by Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, and Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, with the support of many Delawareans and gun safety organizations such as the Delaware Coalition against Gun Violence.
"The common sense step we take today is about keeping people safe, which shouldn't be a partisan issue," said Governor Markell. "This represents another important step on gun safety, showing we can protect the second amendment while also not accepting the tragic consequences of lax gun laws.
"When we look back over the last few years, we can be proud that Delaware has done about as much as any other state to keep guns out of the wrong hands. That's because of the courage and determination of so many legislators and advocates. Delaware is a safer place for their efforts."
HB 325 continues gun safety efforts by the state, including laws the Governor signed in 2013, instituting universal background checks as well as creating requirements for reporting lost and stolen weapons to crack down on straw purchasing through which people buy a weapon to give it to someone prohibited from having one.
Current federal regulations allow a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer (FFL) to proceed with a firearm transaction if a requested background check has not been processed by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) within three business days. This loophole has allowed firearm transactions that otherwise would be denied to proceed, resulting in potentially dangerous individuals purchasing guns from lawful sellers on a technicality.
According to the FBI, from 2010-14, gun dealers completed 15,729 gun sales nationwide to ineligible people due to the delayed transaction provision.
From 2013-15, 40 individuals successfully purchased firearms in Delaware and were later determined to be prohibited from possessing a gun. In each case, an officer was deployed to retrieve the weapons. In most of these cases, background checks were denied only a few days after the three-day period passed. However, in some cases, a prohibited person has been able to possess a firearm for weeks before the background check has caught up.
"In 2013, the day after the U.S. Senate voted down universal background checks, we in Delaware got it done," said Dennis Greenhouse, Chair of the Delaware Coalition against Gun Violence, which has also worked with the gun safety group Americans for Responsible Solutions. "Now, in 2016, the day after Congress again failed to act, we can be proud of Delaware.
"In the last three years, 40 people in Delaware had to have their guns retrieved because of the loophole we closed today. No Delawarean should be put at risk. That's why this bill is so important."
The House passed the bill Wednesday by a 21-18 margin, shortly after receiving Senate approval by a 12-9 vote.
"For the average, law-abiding citizen, this bill would have no impact on their ability to purchase a gun. If you walk into a store to buy a gun and pass a background check, then you would be able to leave with your gun, just the same as you can today," said Osienski, the prime sponsor of the bill. "This is not a hypothetical situation. It already has happened, and in at least one instance, it was a horrific tragedy."
"If we truly believe, as most Americans do, that any person who seeks to lawfully acquire a firearm must pass a background check before doing so, then this is a common-sense solution," said Longhurst. "In addition to the issue of potentially dangerous people obtaining a firearm, we have to use ATF resources to retrieve guns from people who shouldn't have had them in the first place."
"Delawareans have made it clear that they want us to do what Washington won't: pass meaningful gun-safety laws. House Bill 325 is common-sense gun-safety legislation that will protect Delawareans by making sure more gun sales only occur once a background check has been completed," said Townsend, lead Senate sponsor of HB 325. "For the small percent of checks that can't be completed immediately, HB 325 gives law enforcement officials more time to make sure firearms do not end up in the hands of people who are prohibited from having them."