Gun violence forum sets tone for possible legislative debates

Just days before the resumption of the 150th Delaware General Assembly, lawmakers and stakeholders gathered Thursday for a daylong forum devoted to gun violence and recent crime trends.

People who in the past may have clashed at Legislative Hall as gun issues came up absorbed a series of panel discussions devoted to several topics: the effectiveness of background checks, training and license requirements, definition of assault weapons and mass violence.

State Senator Stephanie Hansen (D- Middletown) organized the event, for which comprehensive statistics were presented and discussed.

"This is not in pro or con of any particular piece of legislation that was up last year or may come up this year," Hansen said. "This is really the discussion process: what does the data say? Do we even have data to talk about some of these things?"

"There's a demand for guns," Delaware Council on Correction Chair Darryl Chambers said. Chambers lost a son due to gun violence.

"If we don't do something about the demand for guns, all we're going to do is create policy and create laws that create an underground market for this," Chambers added.

"No one thing is going to solve this issue but we all have to work together to get there," State Prosecutor A.J. Roop said.

Participants also heard about the concept of a "community gun," a weapon shared by multiple people to commit multiple crimes - something Hansen was somewhat surprised to learn about.

"There is a gun, or a collection of guns that are used in the commission of crimes that just go from one crime to the next," Hansen said.

Another discussion focused on safe ownership, storage and use of legal firearms. Police frequently investigate thefts of guns from homes or vehicles - vehicles that sometimes are unlocked.

"I think guns are part of our culture and being a responsible gun owner needs to be part of that," Delaware Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security Robert Coupe said. "How we approach that may not be through legislation as far as the criminal code but it may be through training and different things like that."

Mitch Denham of Milford, President of Delaware Gun Rights, gave Hansen credit for organizing the panels and inviting various perspectives on the gun issue.

He'd also welcome more dialog with supporters of gun control legislation which he and others believe would violate the Second Amendment.

"We believe that people that shouldn't have guns shouldn't have guns and we agree that we don't want children shot and we don't want mass shootings," Denham said. "We just don't agree on how to go about it."