Barbieri bills would crack down on ‘straw purchases’ of guns and help keep guns out of the hands of those determined to be a danger to themselves or others

DOVER – The House of Representatives passed two bills aimed at reducing gun violence by keeping guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals Tuesday, sending one to Governor Jack Markell for his signature.

Sponsored by Newark Rep. Michael Barbieri, Senate Bill 16 would require owners of lost or stolen handguns to report such loss or theft within one week after discovering the loss or theft. It is the second bill of a five-part package of gun safety legislation announced in January to have passed both chambers. House Bill 35, which would expand background checks for firearm purchases for virtually all private sales, was signed into law by Governor Markell last week. 

Under SB 16, which passed the House 22-19, a first or second offense would carry a civil penalty ranging from $75 to $100 for the first offense and $100 to $250 for the second violation. A third offense would be a class G felony. The bill targets straw purchases of firearms, in which a person buys a gun and then transfers it to a person prohibited from owning one.

“There is a level of responsibility that comes along with gun ownership and that responsibility means keeping guns away from persons prohibited from owning them. This bill does not make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners,” said Rep. Barbieri, D-Newark, the bill’s House prime sponsor. “Law enforcement supports this bill because it is another step toward keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them.” 

Senator Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, the measure’s chief sponsor, reiterated that the bill does not infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.

“I think what we’re sending Gov. Markell is a fair compromise that will make it harder for straw gun purchasers to do their business, while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun users,” said Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East.  “I don’t think reporting missing guns will trouble responsible gun users and the penalties may cause straw buyers to reconsider that kind of business.” 

The House also passed House Bill 88 40-1 Wednesday. Drafted by the Attorney General’s Office, the measure would help keep guns out of the hands of those determined to be a danger to themselves or others by:

  • Expanding the mental health prohibition in state law to include individuals determined by a court to be “a danger to themselves or others,” individuals found guilty but mentally ill or not guilty by reason of insanity, and those found incompetent to stand trial;
  • Strengthening state law by creating a responsibility for mental health professionals to notify law enforcement if, in their professional opinion, they believe a patient is a danger to themselves or others. If a judge agrees that the individual is a danger to themselves or others, they would be added to the persons prohibited list that is shared with the national background check system.
  • Giving the court the authority to order persons prohibited under the bill to relinquish the guns or ammunition they possess to law enforcement or private citizens who do not live with them. 

"This bill is in direct response to tragedies we have seen in places like Aurora, Col. and Newtown, Conn. It will keep our kids and neighborhoods safer by ensuring that guns are kept out of the hands of individuals who have demonstrated that they are a danger to themselves or others,” said Attorney General Beau Biden. “I applaud Representative Barbieri and his colleagues in the House and I look forward to working with the Senate.”

Rep. Barbieri emphasized the ability of mental health professionals and law enforcement officials to work together to keep citizens safe. 

“I understand the importance of protecting individuals who have the potential to harm themselves or others when in a state of mental distress. This bill takes steps to protect those individuals and other citizens from the harm they could inflict,” said Rep. Barbieri. “By promoting coordination between mental health professionals and law enforcement, we will be able to keep guns away from individuals who could be a danger to themselves or others while at the same time ensuring they are receiving appropriate care.”

HB 88 now goes to the Senate for consideration.