DOVER, Del. (AP) - Delaware’s state Senate on Wednesday approved a revised bill requiring gun owners to safely store firearms so they aren’t obtained by people who shouldn’t have them.
The proposal cleared the Senate on a 13-8 vote and now goes back to the House, which narrowly passed an earlier version of the legislation last month.
The amended bill clarifies that authorities would bear the burden of proving that a gun was not stored in a locked container, not disabled with a tamper-resistant trigger lock, not obtained by an unauthorized person as the result of a burglary, and not stored where “a reasonable person” would believe an unauthorized person could acquire it.
The amendment was added by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, an attorney and one of the legislature’s leading proponents of tighter gun restrictions.
The original bill said a gun owner could cite an “affirmative defense,” such as use of a trigger lock, to overcome an assumption that a gun was stored improperly.
“‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is a fundamental tenet of our legal system and yet the original version of this bill might have forced the victims of a crime to prove their own innocence,” said Townsend.
But the chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Sean Lynn, who is also a lawyer, said he has concerns about the constitutionality of the language in the amended version.
“You can’t say trigger lock, lock box, and hide the lock box,” Lynn said, adding that “affirmative defense” has been a provision applied to certain criminal offenses in Delaware for many years.
The legislation expands an existing provision regarding unlawfully permitting a child access to a firearm to a broader prohibition against “unsafe storage of a firearm.” The bill makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally or recklessly leave a loaded firearm within the reach or easy access of a child or person prohibited from possessing a gun, resulting in that person obtaining the gun.
A gun owner could be charged with a higher-level misdemeanor if the unauthorized person used the firearm to commit a crime, gave it to another unauthorized person, or used it to seriously injure or kill himself or someone else.
Supporters of the measure describe it is a commonsense proposal that can help prevent accidental shootings, suicides, and mass shootings by mentally disturbed individuals.
Opponents say it could unfairly subject law-abiding gun owners to prosecution and is yet another attempt to infringe on the right to bear arms.
“This isn’t about children, it’s about placing barriers between people and their firearms,” Mitch Denham, founder of a Facebook group called Delaware Gun Rights, told lawmakers at a committee hearing that preceded the Senate vote.
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