Del. Senators Shoot Down Gun Legislation - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Senators Shoot Down Gun Legislation

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DOVER, Del. (AP)- A bill expanding the ability of Delaware authorities to prohibit people with mental health issues from having guns went down to a stunning defeat Thursday in the state Senate.           

Senators voted 13-6 to reject the measure, dealing a surprise blow to Attorney General Beau Biden, whose office pushed for its passage. The watered-down legislation had cleared the House with only one dissenting vote.           

"I'm very disappointed. This was a commonsense piece of legislation," Biden said. "... I can't explain what happened today in the state Senate."     

The bill had been pulled from the Senate agenda Tuesday, but Rep. Michael Barbieri, the chief sponsor, said he was unaware of any problems prior to Thursday's Senate vote.    

"I'm pretty shocked, especially since we compromised on our side" said Barbieri, D-Newark. "I thought we had appeased everybody, including the NRA."      

After successfully pushing for an amendment to raise the standard of proof for taking away someone's guns, the National Rifle Association took a neutral stance on the bill, neither endorsing nor opposing it.      

"We no longer consider the bill a significant threat to law-abiding gun owners," NRA lobbyist Shannon Alford told the Senate.       

But lawmakers said they received several calls in opposition to the bill just prior to the vote.         

"Today, our phones were flooding," said Senate sponsor Margaret Rose Henry, a Wilmington Democrat. "... It was a grassroots effort at the last minute that really threw things off."        

The bill would have required mental health providers, including licensed school counselors, to call police if they believe a person poses a danger to himself or others. Police would investigate and would refer the case to the attorney general's office if they believe the person shouldn't have access to a gun.

The attorney general's office could then ask a judge to prohibit the person from buying or possessing a gun. The judge also could order the seizure of any guns that the person owns.          

The bill included provisions for a person to defend himself in proceedings against the state's efforts to prohibit him from buying or possessing a gun and to petition the court for the return of confiscated firearms by establishing that he is no longer a danger to himself or others.

But critics were not convinced that the legislation did not improperly infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms or make it difficult to get their guns returned. Some lawmakers also expressed concern that the legislation could discourage people from seeking mental health treatment for fear that their firearms could be seized.         

"I think it went beyond what was correct in being able to confiscate someone's guns," said Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford.   

Sen. Bryan Townsend, a Newark Democrat who refrained from voting on the bill, said he believes its language leaves "several open-ended questions."           

Dr. Neil Kaye, a forensic psychiatrist enlisted by Biden's office to help get the bill passed, seemed confused himself about what the bill did and didn't do. Under questioning by Simpson, Kaye wrongly stated that the legislation would apply only to cases in which a person would be committed for psychiatric treatment.

"It was unfortunate that he was confused in his testimony," said Biden, who described the bill as a direct response to mass shootings such as the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo.

The suspect in that shooting, which left 12 people dead and 70 injured, was being seen by a psychiatrist before the attack.  "I'm not giving up on this," Biden said.

The attorney general's father, Vice President Joe Biden, has been spearheading the administration's efforts on background checks and other gun restrictions since a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last December left 26 dead, mostly young children.

 

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