Taking aim at gun violence: Bill bans ‘mentally ill’ residents from possessing firearms

Secretary Department of Heath and Social Services Dr. Kara Odom speaks during announcement on the Beau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act at Leg Hall on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — With multiple mass shootings and continuing firearm violence nationwide as the backdrop, the dormant Beau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act bill was revived Tuesday.

A coalition of Delaware legislators, health professionals and law enforcement officers gathered at the governor’s office to announce the introduction of legislation to expand prohibition of gun possession for:

• Any person who has been committed to a hospital for treatment of a mental condition.

• Perpetrators of violent crimes who have been found:

1, Not guilty by reason of insanity;

2, Guilty but mentally ill;

3, Mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Also sought is a requirement that health care professionals “share concerns” with law enforcement anyone they believe presents a danger to themselves or others.

Rep. David Bentz speaks during announcement on the Beau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act at Leg Hall on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Once notified, applicable law enforcement agencies must investigate.

As a result, they could determine that a Superior Court order to require individuals to relinquish firearms — if they are found to present a danger, according to authorities — is necessary.

Also, a news release from the governor’s office stated: “The Court may allow individuals to relinquish firearms to a personal designee. The legislation also allows affected individuals to appeal orders to the Supreme Court, and petition to have their firearms returned.”

Then-Attorney General Beau Biden, a Democrat, pushed for a similar bill in 2013 to limit access to firearms for those who are judged to present a danger to themselves or society.

The legislation breezed through the House of Representatives by a 40-1 vote, but the bill was defeated in the Senate.

Now Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, is pushing to get the bill sponsored by Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, passed because “frankly (it) is just common sense.”

Gov. John Carney speaks during announcement on the Beau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act at Leg Hall on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

An important component, he said, is assuring that “due process rights” are preserved and there’s no stereotyping those with mental illness or limiting their access to care.

The upcoming proposal is presented in a “thoughtful, rational reasonable way” in the spirit of the late Mr. Biden, the governor said. The Coalition Against Gun Violence and supportive legislators have crafted a “well thought out piece of legislation,” he said.

“Today we brought together a wide-ranging coalition of advocates to introduce legislation aimed at confronting an issue our entire country faces — gun violence,” said Gov. Carney.

“This legislation will protect our communities by restricting access to firearms for those who are considered a danger to themselves or others. It will also ensure our health professionals and law enforcement are working more closely together when it comes to the issue of firearms.”

According to Rep. Bentz, “We have an obligation to prevent senseless gun violence whenever possible.

“When a person presents a danger to themselves or others, mental health professionals can help prevent some of these tragedies and save lives …”

In the news release, the late Mr. Biden’s wife Hallie said, “He was disappointed when it failed to garner a majority in the Senate, and my family and I are grateful that the Governor and members of the General Assembly brought this bill back. We’re eager to see it pass.”

The bill is a continuation of Delaware’s push to take charge of gun safety issues, House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear said.

“Though issues around gun safety are multi-faceted and complex, we need to have these challenging discussions,” she said. “This legislation is about making sure that firearms are not in the hands of dangerous people and gives mental health professionals more tools if they believe a patient is a danger to themselves or others.

“It is a delicate and complex issue that requires a variety of different stakeholders to work together, and I am proud that we have been able to join forces on this issue.”

Health professionals must take a proactive approach to helping and protecting those with mental issues and the society they live in.

“While we know that the vast majority of people living with a serious and persistent mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators, we also know there are warning signs that we must heed,” said Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker.

“When individuals with a mental illness are a danger to themselves or others, we must act to protect them and others.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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