Delaware Supreme Court considers lifting gun ban in state parks, forests

The Delaware Supreme Court is currently considering lifting a ban on non-hunting firearms in all state parks and forests.

The court is expected to make a decision on the matter within the next 90 days, after hearing arguments for and against a lawsuit filed by members of the Bridgeville Rifle & Pistol Club and the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association against Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Department of Agriculture.

The pro-gun groups argued that the current gun ban violates their rights under Delaware’s constitution, the Associated Press reported. The state constitution was amended in 1987 to include provisions that declare citizens have the right to carry firearms for self-defense purposes.

Delaware’s constitution reads: “A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and State, and for hunting and recreational use.”

Attorneys for the state of Delaware argued that the gun ban was justified as a public safety measure and noted the state was not trying to take away firearms from its citizens.

However, Francis Pileggi, attorney for the pro-gun groups, retorted that the gun rights provisions in Delaware’s state constitution were stronger than those in the U.S. Constitution and therefore cannot be restricted by state or local administrative agencies.

“The legislature might be able to restrict those rights, … but there’s no clear legislative delegation of authority to a state agency to not just restrict, but in this case completely prohibit, the exercise of a fundamental right,” Pileggi said.

Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. did not appear to agree with Pileggi’s argument, noting the state park regulations had been in place long before the state constitution was amended.

However, another judge on the panel, Justice Karen Valihura, seemed unimpressed with the state’s arguments, noting that Delaware’s agricultural department did not ban non-hunting guns until 2003 and that the DNREC’s gun ban in state parks had been revised several times.

Valihura also did not take kindly to the state’s attorney’s argument that parks and forests were sensitive areas where guns should be banned, and questioned why gun owners should be prohibited from carrying for self defense.

Fellow Justice James Vaughn also questioned the police security presence in state parks, after the state’s attorney argued they had committed to providing security officers since guns were prohibited for self-defense purposes.