WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden proposed legislation Monday aimed at keeping people considered a danger to themselves or others from getting their hands on guns.
The bill, which Biden called a response to mass shootings in the U.S. by people with known mental health problems, expands the ability of authorities in Delaware to prohibit people with mental health issues from having access to guns.
Under current law, a person who has been committed to a hospital or mental health institution for a mental disorder can be prohibited from possessing a gun.
"The mental health category is too narrow. It needs to be expanded," Biden said.
The legislation proposed Monday would expand the mental health prohibition against possessing guns to include individuals deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Criminal defendants who have been found guilty but mentally ill, not guilty by reason of insanity, or incompetent to stand trial also would be prohibited from having guns.
The bill requires mental health providers, including licensed school counselors, to call police if they believe a person poses a danger to himself or others. Police would investigate and would refer the case to the state Department of Justice if they believe the person shouldn't have access to a gun.
The DOJ could then ask a judge to prohibit the person from owning or possessing a gun. The judge also could order the seizure of any guns that the person owns. In the case of a troubled child, authorities could seize any guns owned by a parent or guardian with whom the child is living.
Biden and other proponents said the legislation balances the rights of mental health patients with public safety.
"Just seeking mental health treatment does not prohibit you from owning or possessing a gun under current law or this legislation," said Biden, adding that the bill was a "practical, commonsense approach" to reducing gun violence, including suicides.
Rep. Michael Barbieri, a Newark Democrat and licensed social worker who is co-sponsoring the legislation, said that if the bill prevents just one person from killing himself or herself, or another person, he would feel that he's done his job.
Republican House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, R-Wilmington, who supports the bill, said the mental health aspect of gun violence has been suppressed "long enough."
"It's the person who commits the crime, not the weapon," she said.
The legislation is tied to a broader package of gun-control measures proposed by Biden and Democratic Gov. Jack Markell in the wake of the December school shooting in Connecticut.
Lawmakers last week gave final approval to a bill expanding criminal background checks on gun purchases in Delaware to include most transactions between private sellers and buyers.
Markell also is pushing for bans on the sale of high-capacity magazines and military-style assault-type weapons and new restrictions on guns near schools.