Permitless concealed carry bill fails in committee

Charlie Megginson Government, Headlines

A bill to allow Delawareans to carry concealed firearms without a permit failed to be released from the five-member Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The lengthy committee meeting drew dozens of public comments on either side of the issue, with some members of the public taking offense to Wilmington Sen. Sarah McBride’s characterization of permitless concealed carry as a “justice system of the wild, wild west.”

Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, would allow Delawareans who are 21 years of age or older and not otherwise prohibited under state or federal law to carry a concealed deadly weapon for the purpose of defending themselves, their family, their home or the state.

Eighteen other states allow for the permitless concealed carry of firearms, often referred to by supporters of the practice as “constitutional carry.” 

Because the bill was not released from the Judiciary Committee, it will not proceed to a debate or vote by the full Senate. In theory, because the bill is not dead, it could be released from the committee in the future, though such a move would be highly unlikely. 

Under current Delaware law, individuals wishing to carry a concealed weapon must complete a stringent application process, which requires that they:

  • Complete an application issued by the Superior Court
  • Have the application published in a newspaper of “general circulation” once, at least ten days prior to submission of the application
  • Submit to fingerprinting conducted by the State Bureau of Identification, which costs $52
  • Have a reference questionnaire completed by five citizens from the county in which the applicant resides
    • References cannot live at the same address as the applicant or have known the applicant for less than one year
  • Have the application notarized
  • Attach two official color passport photos to the application
  • Pay a fee of $65
  • Complete an approved gun course, which often costs between $100 and $300
  • Hand deliver or mail the application to the nearest Superior Court prothonotary’s office

The application is then reviewed by the court and the Attorney General’s office, after which:

  • If the application is denied, the applicant receives written notification
  • If the application is approved, the applicant must submit notarized proof that they completed an approved gun course
    • If proof that the applicant has completed an approved gun course is not delivered to the court within 90 days of the application’s approval, the applicant must start the process over

Lawson said eliminating the concealed carry permit is “something that is overdue” and that he expects to “hear the cry from folks that ‘oh, there’s going to be blood in the streets if everybody’s carrying a gun.’” 

“The issue is that everybody can carry a gun in Delaware now,” he said. “Open carry is legal in Delaware.”

Unlike concealed carry, Delaware gun laws currently allow residents who are legally allowed to own a handgun to carry it openly without a permit. 

That could change if the House of Representatives passes a permit to purchase bill that’s already been voted through by the Senate.

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington, would require Delawareans to complete training and obtain a permit before purchasing any type of firearm. 

During the committee meeting, some argued that permitting requirements preclude Delawareans from exercising their right to bear arms, which is guaranteed under both the federal and state constitutions. 

Others pointed out that the process can be cost-prohibitive for some residents — often those who live in communities where the need for self-defense is the highest or where police response times are the longest.

“This is a major economic bar for them to be able to protect themselves,” Lawson said. “They have to go through that process, they’re law-abiding citizens, they’ve never done wrong, they’re not prohibited. If they have to go through that process, they can’t afford it. And where is the high crime? In those underserved areas. That’s the folks that need protection.”

But McBride, D-Wilmington, countered that “when you have more guns with people out and about, there is more violence, there is more death. I don’t believe a justice system of the wild wild west makes us safer.”

Many public commenters in support of the measure took offense that McBride would suggest lawful gun ownership is akin to frontier justice or vigilantism. 

After many expressed their discontent with McBride’s characterization, the committee’s chair, Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, D-Brandywine Hundred, stepped in to “remind everyone that during public comment, you should be focusing on the bill that is before us and the subject matter that’s before us.” 

Lawson concluded that gun owners already have the right to concealed carry.

“They just need the state to acknowledge that right,” he said.

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