Gun control bill passes Delaware Senate committee

DOVER — A Senate committee released to the floor Wednesday a bill that would tighten the restrictions on firearm possession by individuals prohibited by Family Court.

Senate Bill 83, which draws all but one of its supporters from the Democratic side of the aisle, would require anyone ordered by Family Court to turn over firearms do so within 24 hours.

Anyone given the mandate would have to surrender ammunition as well and document the transfer to law enforcement.

Currently, a Family Court commissioner can include in a protection from abuse order a provision forcing the recipient to surrender all of his or her guns, but there is no timetable.

Under the purview of the legislation, the definition of domestic violence would also be expanded to include violence against not just a family member, spouse, person the offender has a child with or partners who live together but also people who have dated or lived together within the past five years.

The bill is touted as a valuable method to reduce the danger to potential victims of domestic violence, but others argue it unfairly restricts the rights of citizens and violates due process laws.

The Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence reported 53 people were fatally shot in Delaware during domestic violence incidents from 1996 to 2013 and abuse victims are five times more likely to be killed if the abuser has a gun.

In a sometimes impassioned hearing that lasted two hours, advocates defended the bill and argued it is not a gun control but a safety issue.

“To say that I support this bill is an understatement, because I’ve lived at the end of someone who had a right to own a gun, he had protection from abuse (order), he was convicted and he still had a gun,” said Maria Matos, who described staring down the barrel of a shotgun held by her drunk ex.

Proponents of both sides tried to refute each other’s arguments. Those opposing the bill repeatedly cited the Constitution, arguing the proposal would infringe on fundamental rights.

“When you’re casting such a wide net, as this bill would do, you’re bound to catch people that shouldn’t be caught and would be caught up in this system where they shouldn’t be in the first place,” said Jeffrey Hague, a member of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association.

Former Democratic Rep. Darryl Scott, as well as a representative for Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams, said the bill helps close the gap in existing laws. The Rev. Bruce Gillette, a pastor at Limestone Presbyterian Church, in Wilmington, argued it will help protect citizens.

“Those concerned about gun rights, quite frankly, human life trumps that,” he said.

Opponents said Family Court-issued protection from abuse orders are given with a low standard of evidence and argued a claim of abuse is sometimes an “opening salvo” in a custody battle.

Several speakers objected to a statement from one supporter that opponents of the bill were not looking out for those affected by violence.

“To hear that I am not an advocate for victims of domestic violence hurts,” said Shannon Alford, the Delaware liaison for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. She tearfully told of being attacked and using a gun to defend herself.

“This law could be abused just like the women that it’s supposedly designed to protect,” she said.

The committee ultimately released the bill, with four of the six members supporting it. With gun control typically a Democratic issue, supporters seem to have the advantage in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. It’s set to be debated in the Senate today.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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