Bill would let police seize guns to avert suicides – The News Journal

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Some Democrats want to give judges and police the power to temporarily seize guns from people whose family believes could be a danger to themselves or others. 

“The primary motivation is really to try and put a mechanism in place to diffuse potentially dangerous situations, especially in regard to suicides,” said Rep. David  Bentz, D-Christiana, sponsor of House Bill 222.

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But some Republicans and gun-rights advocates think the bill is a violation of Second Amendment rights.

“This would absolutely lead to some peoples’ rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution being taken away without due process,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. “Are there those who deserve to have their Second Amendment rights taken away? Absolutely. But to just whimsically do that, which I think this bill does, is not something I can support at all.”

If Bentz’s bill passes, family members or law enforcement could petition a judge to issue an “LVPO” on a person who is showing dangerous behavior. A person under one of those orders would not be allowed to buy guns or possess them. 

Police would be authorized to search and seize guns from the person’s home. The person petitioning for the order must be able to describe the type of gun and where it is located.

The orders could be granted on an emergency basis, but courts would be required to hold a hearing within 10 days of such an emergency order being issued. At the hearing, the gun owner would be able to refute the petitioner’s claims that they are a risk. 

Orders could last for up to a year, though they could be renewed. The person under the order could petition the court to lift it earlier.

The primary motivation behind the bill, Bentz says, is to stop suicides. Between 2011 and 2015, more than half of all suicides were committed with guns, according to stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“It’s by far the most lethal method. It’s far more likely to be successful,” Bentz said. 

Several other states have considered similar laws, with some couching them as a way to curb the soaring rates of suicide among military veterans. 

Bentz said the orders are designed to be temporary.

“The whole purpose is to get them past that point of crisis so that property can be returned to them,” he said. “There’s no intent to take the weapons away permanently, we’re just hoping to get them into treatment or whatever needs to be done.” 

Lawson, however, thinks the order is unnecessary and thinks it could be easily abused. He questions the ability for emergency orders that don’t have hearings and criticizes the fact that a person could lose their guns for a year or more.

“A right delayed is a right denied,” Lawson said. “And this is just another delaying tactic.”

The General Assembly has two weeks left in its session, and it is consumed with huge debates like whether to raise income taxes. 

Bentz acknowledges it’s unlikely the bill will pass all the way through the General Assembly this year, though he hopes it will pass the House. This is the first year of a two-year term, so legislators will pick up the bill wherever they left it when they resume next year.

“My hope is that, when my colleagues learn more about this bill and the reasoning behind it, they will support it,” Bentz said. 

Contact Matthew Albright at malbright@delawareonline.com, (302) 324-2428 or on Twitter @TNJ_malbright. 

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