Gun portion of bill draws fierce debate

DOVER — A vote on a bill about online privacy for children was sidetracked when lawmakers became caught up in a debate about firearms and whether a felony had been committed during the discussion on the Senate floor.

Sen. Patti Blevins, D-Elsmere, accused a lobbyist of knowingly providing false testimony in regard to specific language in a bill that would outlaw advertising of firearms to children. The back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats led to several individuals trading thinly veiled barbs and questioning the viability of the legislation.

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 68 would bar website operators from targeting children with certain products or services, such as tobacco, tattoos and guns. Following some debate, an amendment introduced by Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, to lift the firearm prohibition passed 11-9, drawing the ire of the Democratic backers. Sen. Blevins tabled the bill, and after legislators departed the chamber for their regular closed-door meeting, it was left sitting, with the possibility it would not return.

When legislators returned from their caucus sessions, they resumed discussion on the topic, with Sen. Blevins introducing an amendment that would override the previous one.

In discussions over the substitute bill, Sen. Blevins accused a lobbyist who testified earlier of deliberately providing false information. Although she did not specify who she was referring to, it was clear she was responding to statements made on the stand by National Rifle Association‎ lobbyist Richard Armitage.

An individual found guilty of giving false testimony — a class F felony — could face up to three years in jail. Although Sen. Blevins said on the floor she did not intend for Mr. Armitage to face charges, the statement led to several lawmakers on the opposite side of the aisle jumping to Mr. Armitage’s defense.

Shooting back at Sen. Blevins, Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, argued the lobbyist had not knowingly provided false remarks.

Mr. Armitage said he had not intended in any way to give an inaccurate statement and claimed his remarks were misconstrued.

Following debate both on whether companies should be able to market guns to children and on the alleged false testimony, the Senate passed Sen. Blevins’ amendment 12-4, with five choosing not to vote.

The amendment canceled out Sen. Simpson’s change, thus barring the advertising of firearms to minors.

By a 15-4 vote, with two not voting, the chamber passed the full bill, after more than an hour of debate in all.

It now heads to the House.

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