Biden proposes reporting requirements, tougher sentences

Bipartisan bills target violent criminals and dangerous mentally ill
April 23, 2013
Attorney General Beau Biden is proposing legislation to keep guns away from violent criminals and the dangerous mentally ill. SOURCE FILE PHOTO

Delaware lawmakers are aiming to keep guns away from criminals and the mentally ill.

Attorney General Beau Biden joined Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf and New Castle County legislators April 22 to introduce a bill to expand reporting requirements for medical professionals when a dangerously mentally ill person has communicated a threat of violence against themselves or another person and could conceivably carry out the threat.

Under current law, a report is required only by a hospital to which a patient is involuntarily committed for treatment.  The bill would expand the reporting requirement to all treating professionals.

Reports would be submitted to law enforcement for investigation, which could then refer the report to the Attorney General’s Office; the Attorney General could petition Superior Court to declare the dangerous person a person prohibited from owning a gun.

The bill also says perpetrators of violent crimes who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty but mentally ill or mentally incompetent to stand trial would be prohibited from possessing a firearm.

The measure also establishes a mechanism for a court to order guns or ammunition be relinquished by anyone prohibited from owning a gun.

The bill would further establish clear due process protections for any person declared prohibited, or whose weapons are relinquished, to get their weapons back and be declared no longer prohibited by proving that they are no longer a danger to themselves or others.

Another Biden proposal, House Bill 36, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, increases minimum sentences for the use or possession of firearms by persons prohibited.

Current law mandates a minimum mandatory jail sentence of one year for violent offenders who are convicted of possessing a gun, three years if the offender had previously committed a violent felony within 10 years and five years if the offender was previously convicted of two or more violent felonies.

HB 36 would increase those minimum mandatory jail sentences to two years if the offender was previously convicted of a violent felony, four years if the offender committed a previous violent felony within 10 years and seven years if the offender was previously convicted of two or more violent felonies.

The bill was released from the House Judiciary Committee April 17 and now awaits a vote in the House.

Briggs King said, "This legislation is the result of a months-long effort aimed at crafting a bill that will ensure repeat offenders are not able to possess or purchase a firearm.  I am happy to be partnering with the Attorney General in this important effort.  If it means keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, then we should waste no time enacting this legislation."

Biden introduced several measures targeting violent offenders earlier this month, including a one-year mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of unlawfully carrying a concealed firearm –  for which there is currently no minimum mandatory sentence.

Another proposal would add the crime of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony to the list of serious violent felonies that can trigger enhanced prison sentences under Delaware's habitual offender statute.

A final proposal would get tougher on young offenders who continue to commit crimes.  Under current law, juveniles found guilty of violent felonies are prohibited from possessing a gun, but those juvenile adjudications do not count as convictions that would trigger minimum jail sentences if they are later convicted of a gun offense; under Biden’s proposal, they would.

"We are focusing on violent criminals who are already prohibited from possessing firearms but continue to break the law and threaten the safety of our neighborhoods," Biden said in a press release.

A related measure, House Bill 37, sponsored by House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, enhances penalties for those who discharge a firearm and cause serious physical injury to a victim during the commission of a crime.

The bill was also released from the House Judiciary Committee April 17 and awaits a vote in the House.

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