Letter: Reader: committee caved to NRA


A sickening and callous disregard for the safety of Delaware school children and residents was on full display this week when the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted not to release an assault weapons ban to the full Senate. The vote snuffs out its chances for passage, unless the Senate makes the unlikely decision to suspend its rules.

The ban, introduced by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, would have blocked the sale, transfer or importation of assault firearms, which have been responsible for many of the nation’s most deadly mass shootings.

The short list of massacres perpetrated by gunmen using assault rifles includes the Las Vegas rampage, which left 58 people dead and 800 wounded; the Parkland, Fla., high school shootings, which left 17 dead and 17 wounded; the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, resulting in 28 deaths and two injuries; and the Columbine High School tragedy, which killed 15 and wounded 24.

Sen. Greg Lavelle, a Republican representing the 4th District in northern Delaware, was the key vote against the bill. The financial consultant, posing as a constitutional scholar, stated with certainty that the bill would never pass constitutional muster. This, of course, is nonsense, a smokescreen designed to give him cover.

The bill was modeled after Maryland’s weapons ban, which was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The NRA then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the matter, which refused to hear the appeal.

Seven states and the District of Columbia currently ban assault weapons. Massachusetts’ ban was similarly challenged by gun advocates and was similarly upheld by a U.S. District Court judge, who ruled that assault weapons are military firearms and are not protected by the Second Amendment.

So two federal judges and the Supreme Court have upheld state assault weapon challenges, you would think that would have been good enough for Sen. Lavelle, a shill for the NRA, and his accomplices, including the well-heeled lawyers hired by gun advocates to address the committee.

There were other false claims made by Lavelle and friends. Without offering any evidence, Lavelle argued that the federal assault weapons ban, which was laid to rest in 2004, only 10 years after it became law, did not work, so why should anyone think the bill the committee was considering would be any more effective?

Although the federal ban was rife with loopholes, statistics compiled by a Princeton University professor show that indeed the number of people killed in mass shootings dropped while the ban was in effect. And the number of mass shootings after the ban expired doubled.

Further, a survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found that 37 percent of the police departments responding to its survey reported seeing “noticeable increases in criminals’ use of assault weapons” after the ban expired. This upward blip is one of the reasons the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommended in 2007 that Congress enact a new ban.

And here’s one other interesting nugget that Lavelle and friends failed to mention. Studies cited by the Giffords Law Center showed that the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban was associated with increased drug trafficking-related gun violence in Mexico, which often involves assault weapons first sold in the U.S.

Perhaps most galling was Lavelle’s assertion that an AR-15 isn’t really an assault weapon. Someone should introduce him to the family of Eugene Stoner, the man who invented the weapon. Here’s what they have to say about the subject:

“Our father designed the AR-15 as a military weapon to give our soldiers an advantage over the AK-47. He died long before any mass shootings occurred. We do think he would have been horrified and sickened by these events.”

But Lavelle didn’t kill the bill alone. He was helped by Republican Sen. David Lawson, a gun hawk who, by the way, used to own a gun shop called Shooter’s Choice, and Democratic Sen. Bruce Ennis, another gun advocate. It makes one wonder how the bill ended up in front of this committee anyway?

Committee members tried to inoculate themselves from criticism by limiting the time for public comment. At the hearing, only 40 minutes were allotted for the public to speak; each speaker was limited to two minutes at the podium. Lobbyists got first crack. Among the first names on the sign-up list for those wishing to address the committee were proponents of the bill, myself included. But we were never called on to speak.

Happily, the committee did hear from two students who pleaded with the senators to consider their safety. But their pleas mostly fell on deaf ears. I guess the three who tanked the bill weren’t in a listening mood … unless the speaker happened to be wearing camo and an NRA cap.

Gerry Cohen, Chair, 
Gun Regulation Committee
Progressive Democrats of Sussex County