- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Several gun control bills advanced through the Delaware legislature on Wednesday as lawmakers take aim at restricting weapon sales and ensuring those deemed potentially dangerous for mental health reasons do not have access to firearms.

With little discussion, a Senate committee released a bill defining bump stocks, trigger cranks and similar devices as “destructive weapons” whose sale or possession is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

The measure, which the House approved last week, was scheduled for a Senate vote Thursday.

Some Republican lawmakers have expressed concern about the constitutionality of the bill, noting it would require people who already legally own bump stocks to surrender them to the government without compensation.

The Senate also was scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill to strengthen the penalty for straw purchases, in which a person buys a gun in order to sell or give it to a person prohibited from having one.

Meanwhile, the House was scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill allowing authorities to seize firearms from people deemed by mental health providers and police to be a danger to themselves or others.

The bill is a revised version of similar legislation that failed to win passage five years ago.

Under the bill, police who are alerted by a mental health provider could investigate to determine if there is probable cause that a person is dangerous to himself or others and possesses a firearm.

With no notice to the person, and no hearing, police could seek an immediate, temporary order from a Justice of the Peace Court requiring the person to surrender any guns or ammunition. 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 does not file a petition within 60 days of the Justice of the Peace Court order, the guns would be returned to the individual. If a petition is filed, the person would have a right to a hearing in Superior Court, and authorities would have to prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that the individual is dangerous.

“I think this bill is a commonsense first step,” said chief sponsor Rep. David Bentz, a Newark-area Democrat. “I hope it’s the first step of many different things we can do this session to try to make our communities safer.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns about the bill, which allows a court to prohibit a person deemed dangerous from living with someone who owns firearms. The ACLU also notes that there is no time limit in which a Superior Court judge would have to hold a hearing on a petition by the attorney general’s office.

“This means that a person in a mental health crisis could be required to leave his or her home if someone else in the home has firearms or ammunition, without any pre-deprivation due process or even timely post-deprivation due process,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “That person would have no opportunity to be heard in court to address that deprivation of liberty over the course of at least 60 days, and potentially indefinitely … “

The ACLU is also concerned about ensuring that police officers carry out court orders to seize guns are trained to encounter people in a mental health crisis.

“Such encounters are exponentially more likely to lead to police shootings, but that risk can be substantially mitigated when the officers involved have appropriate training and are required to follow appropriate policies,” the ACLU said.

In other action Wednesday, a House committee released a bill raising the age for a person to buy a rifle from 18 to 21. It exempts active members of the military, law enforcement officers, and people with permits to carry concealed weapons.

The bill also would not apply to shotguns or muzzleloading rifles, and would still allow a parent to buy any type of firearm for a child of any age.

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