Del. Senate deals stunning defeat to gun bill

Del. Senate rejects bill to keep guns away from people deemed danger to themselves, others

Associated Press

DOVER, Del. (AP) -- A bill that would have expanded the ability of Delaware authorities to prohibit people with mental health issues from having guns was defeated Thursday in the state Senate even after being revised to placate the National Rifle Association and other critics.

Senators voted 13-to-6 Thursday to reject the measure, which was pushed by Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. His father, Vice President Joe Biden, has been spearheading the administration's efforts to expand background checks and pass other gun restrictions since the mass shooting last December at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 dead.

The Delaware legislation had cleared the House with only one dissenting vote.

"I'm very disappointed. This was a commonsense piece of legislation," Beau 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 NRA took a neutral stance on the bill, neither endorsing nor opposing it. The NRA had said it would oppose the bill unless the standard of proof for declaring a person dangerous was changed from "a preponderance of evidence" as initially written, to "clear and convincing evidence."

"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 believed a person posed a danger to himself or others. Police would investigate and would refer the case to the attorney general's office if they believed 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.

But some critics feared the legislation would infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms and make it difficult for them 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.

Beau Biden 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.

Said Biden: "I'm not giving up on this."

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