Delaware Lawmakers Take Major Step Towards Implementing 'Permit to Purchase' Scheme

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Delaware Gov. John Carney made passage of a "permit-to-purchase" law a major focus of his State of the State address this week, and his fellow Democrats are moving quickly to give the governor what he wants. On Thursday the House of Representatives approved SB 2 after several hours of debate, sending the bill back to the state Senate for a final concurrence vote that could come as early as next week. 

The House did make several changes to the permitting scheme, none of which make the bill any more palatable to gun owners or constitutionally sound.  

Amendments passed remove the voucher program that would have provided financial assistance to low-income residents to cover the firearms safety training, which the legislation’s fiscal impact note indicated would cost about $1.7 million annually.

The amendments to the bill also make technical changes, including language that empowers law enforcement to ensure surrender of guns purchased under a revoked permit and reiterating that information collected for the permit would be exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act Law.

People who already hold a valid concealed carry permit, qualified law enforcement officers as well as retired police are not required to obtain or present a handgun purchase permit. Other amendments passed Thursday exempt "certain professionals and individuals" from the training requirement "only if the firearm training they undertake as part of their employment meets the requirements for training set forth" in the bill.

The majority of the costs associated with the bill are for the staff and technology needed for the implementation and continued operation of the permit program. 

The first year of the program’s implementation is estimated to cost about $2.7 million, for which Carney’s 2025 budget proposal includes nearly $3 million for the implementation. 

By the second year, costs would climb to about $7.8 million annually – a figure that includes the cost of the voucher program. The bill’s fiscal note suggests that the voucher program wouldn’t be rolled out until the second year of its implementation. 

I don't think this bill is supportable in any form, but by removing the financial assistance for low-income residents it's now pretty clear that Delaware Democrats are hoping that the permitting scheme will stop poor people and the working class from exercising their Second Amendment rights. Compare that to what lawmakers in South Carolina did with Constitutional Carry; removing the training requirement before a lawful gun owner can legally carry, but offering up free training on a monthly basis in every county in the state.  

Regardless of whether or not it's subsidized, requiring training before someone can lawfully possess a gun in their home isn't even close to comforting with the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment. As a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel opined last November in striking down Maryland's permit-to-purchase scheme that goes by the label Handgun Qualification License:

In Maryland, if you are a law-abiding person who wants a handgun, you must wait up to thirty days for the state to give you its blessing. Until then, there is nothing you can do; the issue is out of your control. Maryland has not shown that this regime is consistent with our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. There might well be a tradition of prohibiting dangerous people from owning firearms. But, under the Second Amendment, mechanism matters. And Maryland has not pointed to any historical laws that operated by preemptively depriving all citizens of firearms to keep them out of dangerous hands. Plaintiffs’ challenge thus must succeed, and the district court’s contrary decision must be reversed.

Delaware Republicans brought up that Fourth Circuit decision during Thursday's debate, but Democrats brushed aside their arguments by noting that the Fourth Circuit is rehearing the case en banc. Besides, they noted, Delaware's in the Third Circuit, so even if other courts around the country have concluded that these permitting schemes run afoul of the Second Amendment, why should that stop them from implementing their own restrictions. 

Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings’ office noted that 4th Circuit’s ruling will be reheard by the full court because the panel of judges that ruled on the case was not representative of the full 4th Circuit. Two of the judges on the case were former President Donald Trump appointees, and the third dissented, office spokesman Mat Marshall said. 

Marshall said the 4th Circuit’s preliminary ruling, which he expects will be overturned by the full court, is “irrelevant in Delaware.” The First State falls under the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

... Marshall defended Delaware’s “permit to purchase” legislation’s constitutionality. 

“Permit to purchase laws have been on the books in this country for close to 30 years and, despite the NRA’s frantic efforts, none of Delaware’s gun laws have been overturned in court,” he said. “The leading cause of death for children in this country is not car accidents, not disease, but guns. This bill will help change that. If the gun lobby challenges it, we’ll be proud to defend it, and we’ll win.”

Boy, that's a lot of lies packed into one short statement. As we've noted before, and as even the Washington Post has acknowledged, guns are not the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. When anti-gunners like Marshall make that claim, they're leaving out all deaths of under 1-year-olds, and including deaths of 18 and 19-year-old adults

How would a permit-to-purchase law dramatically impact juvenile crime? We're talking about individuals who aren't old enough to purchase a gun legally, and Delaware already has "universal" background checks, so every sale and transfer of a firearm is supposed to go through an FFL. Mandating training for would-be gun owners and subjecting them to yet another background check isn't going to touch juvenile offenders. Instead, it just places another burden on lawful gun owners 

It's also completely irrelevant that permit-to-purchase laws have been on the books in a handful of states like Connecticut, Hawaii, and Illinois for several decades. As the Fourth Circuit panel made clear, the state of Delaware is going to have to prove that its permitting scheme fits within the national tradition of gun laws, and there's simply no evidence for the Attorney General's office to point to. 

Republican lawmakers raised all of these points during the four hours of debate on Thursday, but House Democrats simply didn't care. So what if the bill gets challenged in court? It's not like legislators will be the ones paying to defend the law. Who cares if the law is overturned? They can always blame activist judges for the decision, and the gun control lobby will be more than happy to work with them on a workaround if the permit-to-purchase scheme is struck down. 

If Democrats are intent on adopting this scheme, the only real option that gun owners have is to file a lawsuit once the governor has put pen to paper. Legal action is undoubtedly coming, but it's pathetic that its necessary because of the left's refusal to stop treading all over a fundamental civil right.