Delaware has taken important steps to protect its residents by implementing strong gun laws and demonstrates lower rates of certain categories of gun violence than other states. In 2019, for example, Delaware had the 11th-lowest rate of gun deaths in the country, as well as the 10th-lowest rate of gun suicides.1 These low numbers likely can be attributed, in part, to the state’s requirement of a background check before all gun sales, as well as its implementation of extreme risk protection orders2 and its strong concealed carry law. In 2022, shortly after back-to-back mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, Delaware legislators banned the sale of assault-style weapons and the highest-capacity magazines, strengthened the state’s internal background check system, and repealed the gun industry’s immunity in the state. This was a historic response.3 On the most recent scorecard released by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Delaware received a B rating for the strength of its gun laws. It can raise its score by passing a permit-to-purchase requirement, increasing investments in community violence intervention programs, and strengthening its firearm relinquishment laws.4
Still, Delaware saw a significant increase in gun violence from 2019 to 2020, when it recorded a 45 percent increase in gun deaths, the largest year-to-year increase in the United States.5 To close the dangerous legal gaps that contributed to this increase, Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) signed into law, on October 20, 2021, two gun safety bills. The first bill, House Bill 124, prohibits individuals subject to a protection-from-abuse order from purchasing, owning, or possessing a firearm6—a critical step to protecting survivors of domestic violence and their families. The second bill, H.B. 125,7 prohibits the possession of untraceable and undetectable firearms known as ghost guns. These weapons are easy to make at home and are often recovered from U.S. crime scenes.8
While Delaware has taken stronger action than many other states, it has opportunities to further protect its residents from gun violence, including by passing Senate Bill 2 and implementing a permit-to-purchase (PTP) licensing system. S.B. 2 would require anyone wishing to purchase a handgun to first obtain a permit that requires them to be fingerprinted and to attend basic live firearm training and safety training.9 Additionally, it requires any licensed dealer, manufacturer, or importer to ask individuals to present this permit before completing a handgun sale. A similar bill passed the Delaware Senate and House Judiciary Committee in 2021, but the Delaware General Assembly failed to move it forward.10 As of May 2023, 13 states require individuals to first obtain a permit or license to purchase at least some types of firearms.11 Oregon became the latest state to enact a PTP requirement when voters approved Measure 114 in November 2022.12 Similar to PTP policies, California requires prospective buyers to earn a certificate showing that they have completed a firearm safety training course before they can purchase any firearms, and Washington, D.C., requires gun owners to register their firearms.13 Numerous studies and reports have consistently found that these policies reduce and prevent gun violence.14
In addition to requiring fingerprinting and safety training, PTP policies are more effective than standard background checks because they ensure that licensing authorities have access to state and local criminal records, pending charges, mental health records, and restraining order data that may not have been submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).15 This fact sheet highlights three threats to public safety in Delaware that could be addressed by the implementation of a PTP law: gun homicides, internal gun trafficking, and firearm theft.
1. Gun homicides, particularly among young people
Gun deaths in Delaware are lower than in other states, but this small number is driven by lower levels of gun suicides. One of the most pressing issues around gun violence in the state is gun homicides, particularly among young people. From 2018 to 2021, Delaware had the 13th-highest rate of gun homicide deaths in the United States.16 The state had 7.3 gun homicides for every 100,000 people, higher than the national average rate of 5.4.17 The number of gun homicides in Delaware rose by 60 percent from 2019 to 2020 and increased another 17 percent in 2021.18
Furthermore, gun homicides in Delaware disproportionately affect young people ages 15 to 24. This age group represented just 12 percent of the population from 2015 to 2019 but suffered 39 percent of gun homicides.19 During that same period, the state had a gun homicide rate among young people that was 61 percent higher than the national average; compared with all other states, Delaware ranked ninth.20
By passing a PTP law, Delaware could reduce its number of gun homicides, especially among young people.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the association between PTP laws and gun homicides. In Connecticut, gun homicides decreased by an estimated 40 percent during the first 10 years of a PTP law’s implementation.21 Other studies show that the repeal of such laws led to an increase in gun homicides: After Missouri repealed its PTP law in 2007, gun homicides increased by 25 percent,22 and a recent study found that the law’s repeal was associated with a 22 percent increase in gun homicides among young people ages 19 to 24.23 By passing a PTP law, Delaware could reduce its number of gun homicides, especially among young people.
2. Internal gun trafficking
Another challenge that PTP laws could address is the ease with which firearms are diverted to criminal activities within Delaware. Academic studies have shown that states with PTP requirements have significantly lower percentages of crime guns that are later traced to in-state sources.24 By using data from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) tracing reports, it is possible to estimate the percentage of crime guns—firearms used to perpetrate crimes—within each state that are traced to in-state sources.25 Figure 1 shows that in 2020, 69 percent of crime guns recovered by police agencies in Delaware originated within the state, compared with 49 percent in states that require a PTP.26 By mandating a PTP license, Delaware policymakers could help prevent this problem.
As expected, states that have removed their PTP requirements have seen subsequent increases in internal gun trafficking. In Missouri, the average percentage of crime guns traced to in-state sources was less than 60 percent before the state removed its PTP law in 2007—but rose to 74 percent by 201427 and 80 percent by 2020.28 Overall, evidence suggests that the implementation of PTP laws can help reduce internal gun trafficking.
3. Stolen firearms
Studies have also shown an important link between PTP laws and gun theft, which is not a minor issue in Delaware. According to ATF data, from 2012 to 2020, 278 firearms were stolen from federal firearm licensed dealers in the state.29 However, most guns are stolen from private owners.30 Data from the FBI suggest that from 2010 to 2019, the value of stolen firearms in Delaware rose to roughly $3.6 million,31 or an estimated 7,950 guns.32 Unfortunately, stolen guns are often used to perpetrate crimes or recovered from individuals who are prohibited from possessing them.33
A 2021 analysis examined FBI data and found that after Connecticut passed its PTP law in 1995, gun theft reported by local police agencies decreased by 44 percent.34 The same analysis showed that when Missouri repealed its PTP law in 2007, police agencies reported a 42 percent increase in gun theft.
Although Delaware lawmakers have taken steps to prevent gun violence in the state, more significant prevention initiatives are needed, including better implementation around existing policies. Lawmakers have an opportunity to increase public safety and save lives by passing and effectively implementing S.B. 2.
In addition to reducing illegal gun diversion, PTP policies are popular with gun owners because the permits make it easier for private sellers to verify that potential buyers are not prohibited from purchasing a gun. This results in increased accountability for both parties involved in private gun transfers. This policy is supported by 78 percent of Delaware voters—including 61 percent of gun owners35—and similar measures have proved to reduce gun violence in other states. If implemented, S.B. 2 could contribute to the reduction of gun homicides, internal gun trafficking, and firearm theft in the state.
Passing PTP laws would be a major step toward making Delaware one of the safest states in the region when it comes to gun safety. Delaware can also close loopholes that allow some domestic abusers to access firearms, increase support for community-based violence intervention programs, and improve the implementation of its safe storage and lethal violence protective order laws. These complementary measures, along with new PTP requirements, could help ease gun-related violence in Delaware and increase public safety.