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Delaware Lawmakers Look to Block Mentally Ill From Having Guns

Posted: Jan 16, 2018 6:26 PM Updated:
Gov. John Carney and lawmakers announce House Bill 302 on Tuesday. Gov. John Carney and lawmakers announce House Bill 302 on Tuesday.

DOVER, Del.- State Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation aimed at keeping guns away from those who are mentally ill in a bill intended to mirror an unsuccessful bill backed by former state Attorney General Beau Biden in 2013. 

House Bill 302 requires health care professionals to notify law enforcement if a person appears to be dangerous to themselves or others, triggering an investigation by law enforcement and a potential Superior Court order for that person's firearms and ammunition to be relinquished. The legislation also bars perpetrators of violent crimes from possessing a firearm if they are found not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty but mentally ill, or mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, threw his support behind the bill during a news conference Tuesday and said it was important to pass the legislation, in honor of Beau Biden, who was also the eldest son of former Vice President Joe Biden and died in 2015 from brain cancer.

"I think there's a compelling argument for it. Obviously there are reasons why some people voted it against it last time. We'll try to address those reasons and get legislators comfortable with the final product," he said.

The legislation would allow a person found not to be dangerous can appeal the court order to relinquish their firearms and ammunition. Those appeals would be heard by the state's Supreme Court.

The 2013 version of the legislation passed almost unanimously in the House but failed in the state Senate. Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, voted for the 2013 bill but said he had since identified some issues in that legislation and hoped to see them address in the new proposal.

"There's an extra level of scrutiny but the bill's not a bad starting point though," he said.

Jeff Hague with the Delaware Sportsman Association said his group has some concerns about the bill, saying it leave a number of questions about procedure for law enforcement interventions and does not guarantee someone can make an appeal to have their weapons returned.

"We feel that there needs to be a hearing so that everyone can state their case so that the judge can come up with a solution that's fair and equitable," he said.

The bill did not have any Republican co-sponsors. House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, who is a co-sponsor on the bill, said he intended to see it passed again in the House.

"This is one of the issues beau felt he just didn't get done and I know that was a personal heartbreak for him," he said.


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