Delaware “red-flag” gun measure poised for final vote
(AP) — A “red flag” bill that allows authorities to seize guns from a person deemed by a mental health provider to be a danger to themselves or others is poised for a final vote by Delaware lawmakers.
The measure, which passed the House unanimously last month, cleared a Senate committee Wednesday and now goes to the full Senate.
Similar legislation failed to win passage five years ago, but the pending bill has received bipartisan support following recent mass shootings around the country.
Under the bill, police who are alerted by a mental health provider could immediately ask a Justice of the Peace magistrate for an order requiring the person to surrender any firearms or ammunition if there is probable cause that he or she is dangerous. The magistrate could also prohibit the person, who would receive no notice or hearing about the police action, from living with another person who owns firearms.
The case would then be referred to the attorney general’s office, which could petition Superior Court for an indefinite order requiring the person to give up any guns or ammunition. If the attorney general’s office did not act within 30 days, the Justice of the Peace order would be void, and police would have to return the firearms. If the attorney general does file a petition, the person could request a hearing, at which time authorities would have to prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that the individual is dangerous.
If a judge agrees, the person would be prohibited from having access to guns and could also be prohibited from living with a gun owner. The person could petition to have his guns returned, and could also appeal to Delaware’s Supreme Court.
“This bill does not stigmatize those with mental illness,” said Dennis Greenhouse, a representative of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence.
Jeff Hague of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, said his group supports the legislation, revised several times since it was introduced in January.
“We think this is the best compromise that is available to address the issue of people with mental illness that need help… This provides a process for everybody,” he said.
The bill is one of several gun-control measures awaiting action by Delaware lawmakers. Others include proposed bans on “assault-style” semi-automatic firearms, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. Democratic lawmakers also want to prohibit anyone under age 21 from being able to buy a rifle. Exceptions would be allowed for law enforcement officers, members of the military and people with permits to carry concealed weapons. Under current law, a person who is at least 18 but younger than 21 is allowed to purchase a rifle or shotgun.
Meanwhile, Gov. John Carney signed a bill Wednesday increasing the maximum penalty for the straw purchase of a gun from three years to five years in prison. The presumptive sentence for the offense, in which a person buys a gun intending to give it to a person who is prohibited from buying or possessing a firearm, remains probation.
Carney said the legislation, and the ability to enforce the prohibition on straw purchases, “is a really big deal,” even though the law is rarely used.
According to a state database, prosecutors have filed only 38 charges for straw purchases since 2013. Those filings resulted in only four convictions. The vast majority of the time, the charge winds up being dropped, possibly because of a plea bargain.
Carney said the new law could act as a deterrent while incentivizing more aggressive prosecution for straw purchases, which are handled more frequently in federal court.
“You’ve got to get police more actively pursuing the straw purchases,” he said.
At the same time, Carney admitted that he doesn’t expect criminals to obey any new gun-control laws that might be enacted.
“Criminals are going to violate the law, that’s why we have police officers. To enforce the law, they need tools to do that,” he said. “…. I think that all these pieces of gun legislation will give law enforcement the tools they need to prevent bad people, criminals, from using firearms to harm others and kill others.”