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Senator Ernie Lopez - The Importance of School Safety

Date: March 30, 2018
Dear Friends,
  
Since my first election to office in 2012, I have co-sponsored and voted for multiple pieces of legislation addressing gun violence before us in the Delaware General Assembly.   The vast majority of measures were ones that I strongly supported and cast votes to that accord.  With much of the current debate revolving around school safety and gun violence and after listening to scores of constituents, particularly these last few days, I felt it important to state my positions on past votes and pending bills in this opinion piece below.
 
I thank you for taking the time to reach out to me personally in recent days and hope the positions I share, are helpful in your understanding of the past and continued importance I place on public safety, even if there is not complete agreement on each and every proposal. 
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
 
Senator Ernesto López
-
To My Fellow Delawareans:
 
Since the tragic loss of life in Parkland, Florida last month, I have been doing what young people all over the United States and here in Delaware have asked of me as an elected official: stop talking and listen - then do something to help make Delaware safer.
 
With the political dysfunction in Washington prohibiting even the most modest means of enacting sensible firearms safety legislation at the federal level, our young people have turned to their state legislators to break through the divide.
 
In just the last six years, Delaware has become a model of sensible and prudent legislation to address gun violence and enhance public safety, with much of it passed on a bipartisan basis. Some recent examples include:
  • House Bill 340, the Delaware Omnibus School Safety Act passed in 2014 and signed into law requiring schools to conduct full scale safety exercises annually and submit verification to the Department of Homeland Security. Currently, 95 percent of Delaware schools are in compliance in enacting these policies and procedures.  
  • House Bill 35, which passed in 2013 and was signed into law. This bill closed a loophole in state law by requiring background checks in connection with the sale or transfer of firearms between private parties. The Delaware General Assembly passed this universal background check law a week after the United States Senate failed to do so.
  • Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 83, which passed in 2015 and was signed into law. This bill protects victims of dating and domestic violence by preventing a domestic abuser's access to firearms.
  • House Bill 174, which just passed both the Senate and House chambers unanimously this month, increases the penalties for those convicted of "straw purchases," or in other words, buying a weapon on behalf of someone prohibited from doing so.
  • House Bill 300, which just passed the Senate and the House chambers this month, bans and makes illegal for all time "bump stocks," which are the deadly accessories which turn non-automatic firearms into automatic shooting machines. Bump stocks were used by the shooter at the Las Vegas tragedy in 2017.
These were all pieces of legislation which I voted to support, some of which I co-sponsored. These new laws serve as a record of substantive improvements toward keeping Delawareans safe and stand in contrast to the narrative being made by many gun control advocates that Delaware legislators have not taken aggressive steps toward addressing gun violence.
 
Has there been unanimous agreement on each and every piece of legislation? No, there has not.
 
With that said, these laws will continue to make Delaware schools the safe haven they are from gun violence. Thankfully, many students recognize this fact, as do countless other young people who have called, stopped me in the district or written to me in recent weeks.  Their understanding and sincere desire for increased safety enhancements stands in stark contrast to the messages from many politically partisan adults who see only through their own tunnel of party affiliation - as opposed to the larger and more important policy piece, which encompasses safety. These two extremes leave no room for consensus building, and I will not allow their inside the Beltway self-righteous purity tests to destroy the foundation of bipartisan progress Delaware has built toward protecting our children from gun violence.
 
In recent weeks, many of our Delaware students have told me repeatedly about their strong feelings toward the passage of a bill which many of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, believe can do the most good in reducing gun violence in our state: The Beau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act.
 
From students on the floor of the Delaware State Senate to more at the Rehoboth Beach March for Our Lives protest, I have heard again and again from young Delawareans, how strongly they wish for this bill to be enacted. As opposed to those unwilling to compromise, who choose to fortify themselves on their wish to "ban guns" or those who want "no changes" to gun laws, many youth have realized that the Biden Act tackles the critical issue of expanding the prohibition of gun possession for:
  • Perpetrators of violent crimes who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity; guilty, but mentally ill; mentally incompetent to stand trial
  • Any person who has been committed to a hospital for treatment of a mental condition.
Language in the bill also includes that health care professionals share concerns with law enforcement. The Biden act steers clear of the noxious and divisive argument over whether to ban or not ban certain types of weapons by temporarily restricting access to all firearms for those considered a danger to themselves or others, while protecting the due process rights of all Delawareans.
 
Young people and safety advocates across America have said repeatedly that if a law such as the Biden act had been in place in Florida, the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, would never have been able to possess, much less purchase, a firearm and I could not agree with them more strongly.
 
Other bills recently introduced, such as House Bill 330 and Senate Bill 163, go too far in usurping Delaware's Constitution, which has expansive language toward an individual's right to legally own firearms for the protection of home, hunting, recreation and self-defense.  This constitutional language is not 200 years old, as many assume, but enacted in 1987. It expressly provides for a much broader right to bear arms than the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
 
After reviewing recent case law, it is my opinion that, if passed, these two bills would not withstand legal challenges made in the Delaware Supreme Court.  Therefore, these are two bills that I cannot support at this time. Further, as a parent with young children in our local public schools, I do not believe that our school teachers and administrators should carry firearms or our school buildings turned into fortified compounds.
 
Friends, 153 years ago, a man of peace, President Abraham Lincoln, was taken from us by an act of gun violence. The man who killed the president was deeply troubled and had openly threatened and demonstrated time and time again his desire to inflict harm.
History reminds us that we must be vigilant in knowing that there are dangerous people in our society, many of whom are intent on inflicting harm. Once that knowledge is proven by reasonable evidence, we must act in order to protect our most vulnerable who depend on us.
 
Over the last few weeks, I have heard from hundreds of Delawareans voicing their concerns over gun violence and school safety. While I have not been able to respond to each and every inquiry, I made it a point to read each message, take every call I could and listen to every voicemail.  To those who contacted me, especially our young people, I say, thank you and I would ask all Delawareans to join me in supporting passage of theBeau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act. Delaware's record on school safety is strong but we must come together to do more. 
 
If enacted, this legislation has a chance to become a national model and is our best opportunity to keep all types of firearms out of the hands of individuals who should not have them.
Dr. Ernesto B. "Ernie" Lopez
Delaware State Senate
District 6, Lewes