Protesters and proponents of gun control legislation converged on Legislative Hall Tuesday as the General Assembly began the second half of its 147th session.
HB 88 died in June 2013, and was buried Jan. 14, 2014.
The bill, which was designed to allow law enforcement to take action if an individual is deemed mentally ill, was not brought up for reconsideration during the opening session of the second half of the 147th General Assembly.
Instead of reconsidering the legislation, the 23 state senators adjourned into caucus sessions after approximately 15 minutes of opening formalities.
Bill supporters meantime worked to round up enough votes to bring the bill back, but ultimately failed to gather the minimum 11 votes.
"It was not restored today," said Senate Pro Tem Patricia M. Blevins, (D-Elsemere). "There were not enough votes to restore it."
But prospects such legislation aren't necessarily dim, Blevins added.
"I think it's doable," she said of prospects of bringing back similar a similar bill.
"I think that maybe this bill was not the right avenue," she said. "Maybe it's time to start over."
Any new legislation could begin in either house, Blevins said.
Opponents and proponents of gun control legislation made their presence known in front and inside of Legislative Hall on Tuesday as senators inside considered reviving House Bill 88, legislation that died there in June.
Tuesday was the first day of the second half of the General Assembly's 147th legislative session.
Standing in a steady drizzle outside, Second Amendment advocates held their annual "Stand Your Ground/Welcome Back" rally where they spoke against HB 88 and planned to distribute letters to legislators outlining their agenda for the session. Their ranks included members of organizations that included the Campaign for Liberty and the First State Patriots.
"Last year, they pushed the gun bills, and of course we're opposed to them," Theresa Garcia, executive director of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots said on Monday. "This year, they're coming back right off the bat with HB 88, which we very much oppose."
George Higgins, acting director of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, said most members of his and other groups, including the Brady Campaign and Delaware Voices Against Gun Violence, planned a different approach.
"We know folks who are adamantly against this like to hold an event opening day, but we're not interested in that," Higgins said. Their primary concern was addressing legislators' concerns about HB 88 and getting it passed, he added.
House Bill 88, introduced in April 2013 by Rep. Michael A. Barbieri, (D-Newark), would have required law enforcement officials to take action if a mental health provider had concerns about an individual and also would have mandated a Department of Justice investigation into those concerns. If the individual was deemed a danger, the DOJ then could petition a court for an order to prevent that person from having access to weapons.
The House of Representatives passed the bill and its three amendments in May by a 40-1 vote, but the legislation failed in the Senate on June 27. The tally there was six in favor, 13 against and two not voting.
The attempt to revive the bill was made under Senate rules that permit a member to recall a vote. If seconded without opposition, this procedure allows the upper chamber to hold another vote or to send it back to committee for reconsideration, Barbieri said. If there is no call for the vote or no second, the measure is dead for good.
Barbieri said he was surprised the bill failed last year.
"My impression was I didn't think it would run into any trouble with the Republican leadership," he said. Amendments to the bill apparently had satisfied concerns brought up by the National Rifle Association, which Barbieri said withdrew its opposition to the legislation.
Barbieri said he got the impression some senators felt they were being pushed into a vote just three days before the end of the first half of the legislative session.
"It went to the Senate and there were a number of people who were not necessarily provided the most clear and accurate information about the bill, and a number of people chose not to vote for it," he said.
As an example of what could be done under HB 88, Higgins noted that Colorado police were legally prevented from taking action when Aurora resident James Holmes had told his mental health provider he wanted to kill people. Holmes later opened fire in a crowded movie theater, wounding 70 people and killing 12 others.
Higgins argued that if police had been empowered to act when learning about Holmes' comments, the Aurora shooting could have been prevented.
In an email to the Dover Post, 9-12 Delaware Patriots lobbyist James Atkins said the group is just as concerned as anyone else about possible violence caused by a mentally ill person. However, he said, Delaware already has laws that prohibit the mentally ill from possessing or obtaining firearms.
Additionally, current laws already require health care facilities to evaluate threats made by persons before they are discharged, Adkins said.
One senator, who supports the legislation, told him the bill also could apply to persons who have not been deemed mentally ill, but who still could present a danger to themselves or others. That statement means people could be deprived of their Second Amendment rights without a professional diagnosis of a bona fide mental illness, Atkins argued.
"Under HB 88 that 'mental health professional' will have a requirement to refer you to law enforcement if they think (NOT diagnosed) you are a danger (maybe only angry?)" Atkins wrote.
"This bill would not have prevented nor will it prevent any tragic mass shootings from happening," he added. "It will, however, discourage people from seeking mental health help in the future."