Gun control is focus of first legislative day

Bill to keep guns from mentally ill remains defeated
Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, left, speaks with Mark Barden, center, and Nicole Hockley, right, whose young sons were victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. BY KARA NUZBACK
January 21, 2014

The legislature reconvened Jan. 14, with the Senate expected to reconsider a bill it had defeated in June, aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.  But no vote came to fruition.

House Bill 88, sponsored by Rep. Michael Barbieri, D-Newark, would have prohibited individuals from owning guns if they had been determined by a court to be a danger to themselves or others, found guilty but mentally ill or not guilty by reason of insanity, or found incompetent to stand trial.

The bill, drafted by the Attorney General’s Office, also required mental health professionals to notify law enforcement if they believed a patient was a danger to themselves or others.

Opponents of the bill argued it was too broad in attempting to prohibit people from owning guns who are not deemed mentally ill, but who present a potential threat to themselves or others.

The bill cleared the House 40-1, May 14, but the Senate defeated the bill 13-6 on June 27.

By Senate rules, senators had three legislative days during which a legislator who voted against the bill could move to rescind the role call and reopen debate on the defeated measure.

The first day back in session was the last opportunity to rekindle the debate on HB 88.

Lobbyists and activists scrambled around Legislative Hall, some attempted to rally the votes they needed to bring the bill back to life, while others tried to convince legislators the bill should remain dead.

The gallery was filled with people waiting to testify about the measure – from Delaware 9-12 Patriots, who wanted the bill to remain defeated, to parents of young victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who were expecting to speak in favor of the legislature.

After about two hours in caucus, Senators poured back into the chamber.

Senate Majority Leader David McBride, D-Hawk’s Nest, addressed visitors awaiting a gun-control debate. “There will be no action taken today on House Bill 88,” he said.

McBride voted against the measure in June. In a phone conversation, he said he did not plan to revive the bill and would have voted against it if a second vote had been taken.

He said the Democratic Caucus determined it did not have enough votes to rescind the June vote and try again to pass the bill.

McBride said he did not know parents of Sandy Hook victims would be in Legislative Hall to support the measure.  “I was surprise that someone would come from Connecticut or Colorado,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said the Republican Caucus did not discuss the bill.  “It was our feeling it was not going to be brought back,” he said.  “Sure enough, it didn’t have the votes.”

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, announced a bill similar to HB 88, Jan. 16.  The new bill would also prohibit possession and purchase of deadly weapons by perpetrators of violent crimes who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty but mentally ill, or mentally incompetent to stand trial, including juveniles.

In a press release, Pettyjohn said, “My bill only addresses that narrow piece of House Bill 88 that had broad support.”

Pettyjohn’s bill had not been introduced in the legislature at press time.

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