Terrorist watchlist gun bill tabled in Delaware

DOVER — For the third time in seven days, the Delaware Senate delayed a vote on a gun-control bill. After deferring twice last week on legislation relating to background checks before passing it Tuesday, senators debated a proposal Wednesday that would bar anyone on a federal terrorist watchlist from buying a gun.

After an hour of discussion, the main sponsor agreed to postpone further discussion due to a time crunch. While a vote could come today, lawmakers may also keep the bill tabled if supporters lack the necessary 11 votes.

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Robert D. Marshall

The bill discussed Wednesday was introduced just the day before. Sponsored by Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, it would use the Terrorist Screening Database to keep suspected dangerous individuals from purchasing firearms. The attempt came in the wake of a failed vote in Congress Monday, which Sen. Marshall pointed to in arguing lawmakers needed to do something.

Although the bill has 10 senators signed on as co-sponsors, meaning it needs just one more backer to pass, there were plenty of skeptics and opponents among senators Wednesday, and much of the hourlong discussion was spent with Sen. Marshall fending off critics.

“It is a list that includes absolutely no due process,” Shannon Alford, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said of the database. “There’s no due process involved in getting on the list, and there’s no due process involved in getting off the list. There’s no process in getting off the list.”

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, raised concerns that if the law is passed, someone on the watchlist could try to buy a gun and be charged with a felony for it.

Under state law, a person prohibited from having a firearm who “knowingly possesses, purchases, owns or controls a deadly weapon” faces up to eight years in prison.

Sen. Marshall afterward called that argument an “exaggeration.”

“When I hear a response like it, I hear a gun manufacturer or an NRA disciple just parroting what is that side of the issue,” he said.

Citing the shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub that killed 49 people, he attempted to appeal to other senators during the floor debate, arguing the bill is needed now.

“We have an obligation to protect the people of this state,” he said.

Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, noted Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen was not on any federal watchlists, meaning no law like the one debated Wednesday could have stopped him from buying a gun. The Los Angeles Times reported Mateen was investigated by the federal government but then removed from the list.

Although many Democrats, including President Obama, support barring people on the no-fly list from buying a gun, the American Civil Liberties Union, which typically takes liberal stances, is opposed to the idea.

Because the list is a classified one compiled by the federal government, Washington would be under no obligation to provide information to Delaware or to remove anyone improperly included in the inventory, Ms. Alford said.

Wednesday’s debate, which came shortly after Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill expanding the length of time gun background checks can take, was interrupted at one point so senators could honor a retiring lobbyist.

The bill could be voted on as soon as today, but there is no guarantee it will be revisited before the session ends June 30.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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