Posted: Jan. 22, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

This state is home to Joe Biden. Not surprisingly, it is making the stakes seem higher here in the standoff over gun laws since Sandy Hook.

There is no mistaking the connection. Beau Biden, the son-the-Democratic-attorney-general, was part of a triumvirate with Jack Markell and Matt Denn, the Democratic governor and lieutenant governor, outlining proposals last week at a press conference in Wilmington.

Biden took the hardest one for himself, a ban on assault weapons, long a signature issue of his father's. "This will be the big fight," Biden said.

Within a week David Keene, the president of the National Rifle Association, was in Delaware to keynote a rally in Dover for the Second Amendment, the one about the right to bear arms.

Keene had a lot of company. A crowd of more than 1,200 people crammed the meeting room at the Modern Maturity Center so full, it spilled into the entryways.

The master of ceremonies was John Sigler, a past president of the NRA himself as well as the current chair of the state Republicans, the "gun" part of the not-so-ironic nickname of "Guns N' Roses" applied to the party. (The "roses" part is Ellen Barrosse, the national committeewoman who founded the pro-life group called A Rose and a Prayer.)

"Let me set the stage. We have a fight ahead of us, a fight that is being brought to us, not because we asked for it, but because Barack Obama, Jack Markell, Joe Biden, Beau Biden and some others have thought it's a good idea to step on the rights of the people of the state of Delaware. I've got news for them. It's not," Sigler said.

Keene zeroed in on where he was. "I like to get to Delaware once in a while, because I used to think this was a really weird place. After all, Joe Biden comes from Delaware. But then I realized it's not so much that he lives in Delaware but that he lives in his own mind," he said.

"It's good to be in Delaware and know that Delaware is a part of America and not a part of Joe Biden's fantasy world."

In the General Assembly, where the debate will be, people noticed, notably Patti Blevins, the Democratic president pro tem in the Senate, and Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker in the House of Representatives.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there was more intensity from the gun rights activists, because they dislike Joe Biden and his agenda. Delaware is extremely proud that someone from Delaware is the vice president of the United States. The national types don't like him," Blevins said.

"What is it about these national figures that come in here and think they can insult us? I don't appreciate these out-of-towners coming in here and thinking they're better than we are," Schwartzkopf said.

Whether Joe Biden really has a personal involvement in the debate here, one of the people in the best position to know is not saying. "I talk to my dad every day, but I don't talk about what we talk about," Beau Biden said.

Still, it is an issue Joe Biden has been heavily invested in for a long time, long before the president asked him as vice president to come up with some recommendations for action. As a senator chairing the Judiciary Committee in 1994, he was the prime mover behind a sweeping anti-crime law that included a ban on assault weapons, now expired.

There is a certain amount of frustration in the early going here because the Markell-Denn-Biden provisions, while announced in concept on Jan. 14, have yet to appear as bills, and the legislature is scheduled to recess for six weeks of budget hearings after Thursday.

It means the debate is essentially frozen on what was proposed -- background checks on private gun sales, mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms, a ban on large-capacity magazines, a ban on assault weapons, and a ban on firearms around schools except for nearby residents -- all of which the officeholders said would be crafted to respect Second Amendment rights.

Meanwhile, the Republican legislators generally would prefer to turn the focus toward school safety, according to Gary Simpson, the minority leader in the Senate.

Although the debate does not necessarily break down by party, it mostly has. Mike Ramone, a Republican representative from Pike Creek Valley, was the only legislator to go to both the Markell-Denn-Biden press conference and the Second Amendment rally.

"I went to listen and to learn. Our job is not to grab a flag and jump on a side and cheer. I wish they'd talk to each other. I don't think enough dialogue happened early on," Ramone said.

"There were good, valid points made at both. There were moments at both I cringed a little. Let's use this horrific event to see what we can do to stop the killing. We're trying to keep our children safe, and irresponsible gun ownership should have ramifications."

Something has gone wrong when the slaughter at an elementary school, in an utter breakdown of the constitutional imperative to domestic tranquility, only seems to dissolve it even more.