DOVER, Del. (AP) — An effort to revive a bill expanding the ability of Delaware authorities to prohibit people with mental health issues from having guns failed Tuesday in the state Senate on opening day of this year’s legislative session.
The bill, pushed by Attorney General Beau Biden, cleared the House last year with only one dissenting vote before being dealt a stunning defeat in the Senate, which like the House, is controlled by Biden’s fellow Democrats.
Under their rules, Senate lawmakers had three legislative days, until Tuesday, to rescind the vote.
But in closed-door caucus talks, Senate Democrats failed to garner enough votes to rescind the vote.
“It’s just a numbers issue,” said Senate President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere.
The bill failed on a 13-6 Senate vote in June, with five Democrats joining Republicans in voting against it. Senate Majority Leader David McBride, D-New Castle, refused to say how many members of his caucus were unwilling to rescind the vote Tuesday.
Biden, who was on hand for last year’s Senate vote, was absent from Legislative Hall on Tuesday, although representatives of families affected by the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., traveled to Dover in anticipation of the bill’s revival.
Biden spokesman Joe Rogalsky said the attorney general’s office was not giving up on the issue.
“The bottom line is this bill will save lives,” Rogalsky said. “We’re not going to stop working on it. We’re not going away.”
But Rep. Michael Barbieri, chief sponsor of the bill, said he doesn’t expect a renewed effort during this year’s legislative session.
“I think it’s too fresh in everybody’s mind and heart,” said Barbieri, D-Newark, adding that he was frustrated and upset by Tuesday’s inaction.
Barbieri said the bill was an effort to prevent shootings by mentally unstable people, not an attempt to violate people’s Second Amendment rights to gun ownership. He said the critics had “nuanced the bill to death.”
The bill would have required mental health providers, including licensed school counselors, to call police if they believed a person posed a danger to himself or others. Police would investigate and refer the case to the attorney general’s office if they believed the person shouldn’t have access to a gun. The attorney general’s office could then ask a judge to prohibit the person from buying or possessing a gun. The judge also could order the seizure of any guns that the person owns.
Some critics feared the legislation would infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms and make it difficult for them to get their guns returned. Others expressed concern that the legislation could discourage people from seeking mental health treatment for fear that their firearms could be seized.
The National Rifle Association took a neutral stance on the bill after successfully pushing for an amendment to raise the standard of proof for declaring a person dangerous from “a preponderance of evidence” as initially written, to “clear and convincing evidence.”