Bentz Bill Would Prevent At-Risk People from Harming Themselves, Others

DOVER – Citing a gap in Delaware law making it difficult for families and law enforcement to prevent at-risk individuals from harming themselves or others, legislators filed a bill Tuesday designed to remove firearms from potentially life-threatening situations.

Sponsored by Rep. David Bentz, House Bill 222 would allow Superior Court to issue a lethal violence protective order (LVPO) where a family member or a law enforcement officer could show that a person posed a danger to self or others by owning, possessing, controlling, purchasing or receiving a firearm.

More than 54 percent of Delaware gun deaths from 2011 through 2015 were suicides (266 of 487), according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unlike homicides, the vast majority of Delaware suicide victims via firearm (91 percent) were white and occurred at the highest rate in rural parts of Kent and Sussex counties.

“Gun violence is not limited to the headlines we see in the news. Dozens of gun deaths happen each year that might have been prevented if law enforcement and loved ones could have intervened sooner and removed firearms from a dangerous situation,” said Rep. Bentz, D-Christiana. “A lethal violence protective order would reduce access to guns and help prevent some of these tragedies. Rather than simply offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ for victims, we need to take action.”

According to The Trace, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States, Delaware has seen a 25.6-percent increase in the gun suicide rate between 1991 and 2015, the fourth-highest rate increase in the country.

“We know the statistics and they’re sobering,” said Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, the bill’s leading Senate sponsor. “A person’s family knows when someone close to them is a danger and we need to give our courts this tool to close a loophole in the law and protect our citizens when they are in danger.”

A lethal violence protective order (LVPO) is a civil court order issued by a judge upon consideration of the evidence, prompted by petition by a family member or law enforcement, which temporarily prohibits a person in crisis from possessing or purchasing firearms. In many shootings, family and household members of the shooters noticed the person exhibiting dangerous behaviors and became concerned that they may harm him or herself or others.

Under HB 222, the order would require a person to refrain from possessing or purchasing firearms during the order’s duration. The order would also authorize law enforcement to search for and seize firearms in a person’s possession provided that the petitioner can describe the type and location of said firearm. Such an order may be issued at an emergency, ex parte hearing, but a full hearing must then be held within 10 days. The burden of proof at the full hearing is “clear and convincing evidence.”

HB 222 has been assigned to the House Administration Committee.


Del Firearm Suicide Map.pdf397.31 KB