By State Rep. Lyndon Yearick
The start of Delaware’s 2023 legislative session, and three recent high-profile mass homicides, have again raised the likelihood that more gun control proposals will soon be debated in the General Assembly.
I share the fear and anxiety the California incidents create in the minds of most Delawareans who wonder if they or some family member might fall victim to this unpredictable violence. Guns are dangerous items in the hands of misguided, inappropriate people. However, they can serve to protect and defend individuals.
I was fortunate to grow up in a house that respected firearms. My father taught me safety and the significance of what a gun can do. I understood at a young age what it meant to pull the trigger.
I take some comfort in the strides our state has already taken to protect the public. We require background checks for all firearm purchases and recently passed legislation to increase the effectiveness of this verification. We have “red flag” laws, preventing the mentally ill from legally acquiring guns and removing guns from the possession of anyone with a protection from abuse order against them. We prohibited selling and possessing “bump stocks” and “trigger cranks” – speed shooting devices with no practical application. And we increased penalties for “straw purchases,” where one person acts as a proxy to buy a gun for someone prohibited.
We have also taken steps to protect our schools, funding physical security improvements and getting more school resource officers and constables on-site.
Like most House and Senate Republicans, I supported these measures because they are prudent, increase public safety, and do not intrude on our citizens’ state constitutional right to use firearms for defense, hunting, and recreation.
Mass shootings in which one or two people carry out multiple homicides against innocent victims are the work of profoundly disturbed individuals.
Most Delaware firearm crimes are perpetrated by criminals against criminals. I could share various statistics on this topic; however, I believe we all know this sad truth. Behind these numbers are real people, losses of life, families without members of their families, and victims of these actions.
The firearm policy debate glosses over the vast number of Americans who lawfully own guns and use them to prevent becoming victims.
We have a gun violence problem in Delaware. Still, the answer is not more ineffective laws like permit-to-purchase.
A permit-to-purchase law would require Delawareans to obtain a “qualified purchaser card” before buying a handgun. To acquire the card, an individual would need to be fingerprinted, undergo a criminal background check, and complete a training course, including firearms handling, live shooting exercises, suicide prevention, and methods for avoiding a criminal attack and managing violent confrontation. Applicants would be required to cover the cost of compliance.
Such a law would make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their rights and deny many the opportunity to legally acquire a gun in a timely fashion to defend themselves or their families. Unfortunately, in too many domestic violence situations, the woman is at risk from a larger, stronger man. A firearm can neutralize this advantage.
During my first campaign in 2014, I knocked on the door of a house with several broken windows. A woman answered. She shared with me that a former boyfriend tried to enter the house and she feared he would potentially harm her. She reminded him that she had a gun and was prepared to use it if he didn’t stop. He left the premises.
In a different case, an older woman that lived in public housing in Wilmington wanted to purchase a firearm to defend herself against the individuals that continued to harass and harm her neighbors. At the time, the Wilmington Housing Authority (WHA) did not allow legal gun ownership in one of their units. Imagine this in your home and neighborhood; you could not protect yourself or your family from individuals who wanted to harm you. The Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association (DSSA) sued the WHA. The authority lost the case, and the woman was able to protect herself.
Police agencies and community leaders need to rebuild trust, especially in Wilmington.
Mental health services need to be expanded, especially in public schools, so signs of illness and alienation can be spotted and addressed before leading to destructive actions and shattered lives.
California arguably has the country’s most restrictive gun control laws, which failed to prevent last month’s tragedies. By contrast, the steps I have suggested will require a considerable investment of time and treasure to advance, but it holds the promise of having a real impact on our state.