Delaware Gov. Jack Markell Discusses His State’s Plans to Address Gun Control

The White House is set to announce proposals for gun control laws, but some state governments aren’t waiting for federal action. Jeffrey Brown talks to Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del., about Delaware’s proposals to curb gun violence, including stricter background checks, a state-wide database of gun owners and an assault weapons ban.

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    And we return to the issue of guns and gun control with two key voices in the ongoing debate.

    As we reported earlier, several states are moving ahead with bills targeting gun sales. On Monday, Delaware officials outlined a series of proposals, including requiring background checks for private firearms sales, banning the sale, manufacture, delivery, and unlawful possession of military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, and outlawing the possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.

    Delaware's governor, Democrat Jack Markell, joins us now. He also serves as the current chair of the National Governors Association.

    Governor, welcome.

    Two years ago, you tried and failed to pass a law requiring new background checks on private sales at gun shows. Do you think that Newtown changed the politics of gun control so dramatically that you can now pass even greater restrictions?

    GOV. JACK MARKELL, D-Del.: Well, I think it may have.

    And that's exactly what we're trying to do. Two years ago, I was probably the only governor in the country to advance any gun safety legislation. I introduced four bills. Three of them got passed, one of them, importantly, about reporting those with mental illnesses to the national database. And that's made a big impact.

    As you mentioned, the one that failed was the gun show loophole. But here's the bottom line. You know, if you go to a licensed dealer, you have to have a background check. Forty percent of sales, people don't go to a licensed dealer. And so when you have got 40 percent of sales not requiring that background check, the system is broken. And we need to fix it.


    Do you support the idea of a statewide database? I note that, in Maryland, for example, Governor O'Malley is proposing a licensing provision for gun ownership that requires fingerprinting for — in a police database and gun training courses. Would you go that far?


    That kind of database is not something we have really focused on here. Certainly, we do encourage people to take the hunters safety courses and the like. They're very well done. I think they're really important.

    But the package that we introduced the other day, including the background checks, including the banning of the high-capacity magazines, those kinds of things we think are the right way for us to go here.


    Of course, opponents, including the NRA, have already spoken out against many such things, the assault weapon ban, as an attack on the Second Amendment. How do you respond to that? And how do you explain that to citizens?


    This is really not about the — this is not any kind of attack on the Second Amendment. I support the Second Amendment. And that's not what this is about.

    We can have a debate about these proposals. This is not a debate about the Second Amendment, as much as the opponents may want to make it so. And that's what they tend to do. And they try to, you know, get everything confused in saying that this is an attack on the Second Amendment. That's not what this is.

    And the bottom line, again, I mean, you know, it seems to me that if we require this kind of background check from a licensed dealer, that makes good policy. And we ought to have the same kind of good policy if somebody wants to get a background check elsewhere.

    Right now, somebody can try to get a gun from a licensed dealer, be turned down because of their background check, walk out and go to some somebody down the street, some private sale, and not have to have the same kind of background check. That doesn't make any sense.

    These high-capacity magazines, not — they also don't make sense. And so what we have proposed is the ban on the sale, the transfer, the delivery. And also you can't have a — one of these high-capacity magazines in proximity to a gun that's capable of accepting them if you're out in public.

    And so this is not about Second Amendment. This is about common safety legislation to help make people safer. And, by the way, it's not just about guns. I will be doing my state of the state speech in a couple days. We will be talking about an increased focus on mental health.

    Last year, we started a package to go toward the issue of school safety and making our schools safer. So there are a number of pieces here, but the gun piece is important. And, again, some of the opponents will try to, you know, mix it all up, make it something that it's not.


    On the mental health issue, again, I was looking at the new law that is being put forward in New York.

    Now, that would require mental health professionals to report patients to mental health authorities, patients who are considered likely to harm themselves or others. That would raise various confidentiality, privacy issues, of course. Would you go that far? What do you want to see done?


    So, our proposal — again, our proposals have not taken that step. What we did a couple years ago is, we required reporting to the national database from the appropriate cases here in the state of Delaware.

    Before, we weren't reporting any cases, because state law didn't allow it. Now we're actually second in the country in terms of reporting these folks to the national database. It's safe. It's appropriate. We think that's the right way to go.


    What about the proposal you're putting forward to a ban guns within 1,000 feet of schools?

    Now, of course, you have seen the NRA come forward and say that there should be armed guards in every school. You sound like you're taking almost the opposite effect — opposite approach.


    Well, we certainly don't think the armed guards in every school makes any sense, for lots of reasons.

    I mean, what happens — are you going to put an armed guard at every doorway? Are you going to put an armed guard outside of every classroom? What happens when they have to go to the restroom? What happens if they're going to lunch? That doesn't make any sense.

    Some of our schools in Delaware do have school resource officers. Those decisions are left up to the local schools in the local districts.


    Although I did see polls today that suggested that, while many people are more supportive of having more gun control legislation, a majority also seem to support the idea of having some kind of armed guard in schools.


    Yes. And, again, these are decisions that are left up, I believe, well to the local community. As I said, probably 20, 25, 30 high schools in Delaware have what we call our school resource officers in the schools.

    But, again, this is not just about guns. And even on the mental health side, the mental health piece is not just connected to guns. It's about making sure that more of our young people have access, are being diagnosed with mental health issues and then have access to treatment as well.


    Let me ask you to put you into your role as head of the Governors Association, looking nationally.

    The states we're talking about today who are sort of moving forward, yours, Maryland, New York, reliably the blue states. Other states we have seen almost move — some moving in the opposite direction from yours. Are you seeing when you talk to other governors, are we getting to some sort of bifurcated system within the country, where various states have very, very different regulations?


    You know, that's the beauty of our system.

    The states can be laboratories of democracy, and they each can do what they believe to be appropriate for their state. This is not one of the issues that I would expect the National Governors Association to come out with a uniform policy on, because I think there is probably significant disagreement amongst governors. And that's true on a lot of issues. And in this case, it's something that will be left up state to state.


    Well, so what — with the president coming out tomorrow, what do you want from him? And, listening to you, would it in a sense be better to have the states go first as kind of experimenters, as you put it?


    No, I actually think on a lot of these issues, from my perspective, you know, having a national law make sense, because people can go from one state to the other so easily.

    So, I'm very interested to see what the president announces. I know that Vice President Biden has been working very hard. And to, I believe, greatly to his credit, he's reached out to governors of both parties across the country, as well as to so many other groups to find out what's working in our state.

    So, for example, I did send him information about the work we have done in Delaware around school safety, the work we have done in Delaware around reporting to the national database. So, I think some of these things probably make sense today from a national level. But some other things may make sense at the state level.


    Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, thanks so much.


    Thank you.