Bill to keep guns from those deemed dangerous filed

 

DOVER — Building on a bill signed into law Monday, Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced a measure designed to keep guns away from individuals deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 222 would allow a person to obtain a lethal violence protective order, a decree forbidding someone from keeping or buying firearms.

Under the measure, an individual who feels someone’s safety is threatened by a person who owns a firearm could file a petition with either the Justice of the Peace Court or the Superior Court. Where the request is filed would depend on the petitioner believes the person in question “poses an immediate and present danger of causing physical injury to self or others by controlling, purchasing, owning, possessing, controlling, purchasing, having access to, or receiving a firearm.”

An emergency request would mandate a hearing be held by the Justice of the Peace Court within 24 hours and would not require the individual in question to be notified. Should the court find probable cause, it would immediately command the person to surrender his or her guns to law enforcement or law enforcement to seize any firearms. It could direct that person not to live with anyone who has guns.

The emergency order would last no more than 45 days and would require the Superior Court to conduct a full hearing within 15 days.

Nonemergency petitions would be heard in the Superior Court within 15 days of being filed. All Superior Court meetings would allow the accused to speak.

The standard for the Superior Court procedure is clear and convincing evidence, a more substantive requirement than probable cause.

An order granted by the Superior Court would potentially allow a person to store their firearms with someone else rather than law enforcement. Like the Justice of the Peace Court, the Superior Court could bar the individual in question from residing in a home where firearms are accessible.

A Superior Court directive would last one year, although the individual subjected to the decree could apply to have it lifted if that person can prove there is no longer a danger in him or her possessing guns. The order could be continually renewed for a year.

Violating an order could lead to a charge of criminal contempt, and filing a false protection order could result in perjury charges.

The Legislature this year passed a bill allowing mental health professionals to report to authorities anyone who owns guns and is believed to be a potential threat to themselves or others. That measure, named after former Attorney General Beau Biden, was signed into law Monday. It received no votes against in the General Assembly.

“It’s very similar to the Beau Biden Gun Violence Protection Act that we just passed, and what it does in the most concise terms is really instead of limiting it to just a mental health provider, now family members or law enforcement can initiate essentially the same process to temporarily take away weapons from someone who isn’t thinking clearly,” said Rep. David Bentz, a Christiana Democrat who is the lead sponsor of both measures.

Both bills are part of a large-scale effort to keep guns out of the hands of people lawmakers believe should not have them. Legislators are also pushing proposals to ban “assault-style weapons,” criminalize bump stocks, prohibit magazines that hold more than 17 rounds and raise the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21.

Democrats noted Delaware’s gun homicide and suicide rates rose by 185 and 26 percent, respectively, from 1991 to 2015, according to The Trace.

“We know the statistics and they’re sobering,” Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, said in a statement. “A person’s family knows when someone close to them is a danger and we need to give our courts this tool to close a loophole in the law and protect our citizens when they are in danger.”

While it’s unknown exactly how many people this bill would apply to, it is broader than the Beau Biden measure.

Rep. Bentz said he is hopeful the measure will enjoy a similar level of support as that received by his previous bill.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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