ST. GEORGE — As a way to prevent at-risk and violent individuals from harming themselves and others, one Utah lawmaker has reintroduced a bill that would allow a judge to order the temporary confiscation of those individuals’ firearms and ammunition.
A so-called “red flag” gun law, designated as 2019’s HB 209, Extreme Risk Protection Order, is sponsored by Layton Republican Rep. Stephen Handy. Handy introduced a similar bill last year in the waning days of the legislative session and didn’t get very far.
Handy filed a revised version of the bill Tuesday.
While a focus of the bill is to prevent gun violence, Handy said he sees it as being a potential tool for suicide prevention.
“We’ve got to do something about the rash of suicides,” he told St. George News Friday.
Citing a recent legislative report, Handy said 85 percent of suicides in Utah involve firearms. It is a rate that should give people pause, he said.
“I think we as a society need to decide if that is a concern to us,” Handy said, adding that suicide is “a public health crisis.”
By separating a potentially at-risk or violent individual from their guns for a time, it provides “space and time” for a cool-down period, he said.
Because many suicides can be a “spur of the moment” action, temporarily removing the most-common means of lethality can help derail those thoughts, Handy said.
Still, he acknowledges that “there’s no one solution” or “silver bullet” in preventing shootings and suicide by firearm.
“Maybe this is another tool we can use,” he said.
Despite the purpose of the bill, gun-rights advocates have railed against Handy, called him derogatory names and questioned his patriotism.
“I respect the Constitution,” Handy said. “I’m also a gun owner with a conceal carry permit.”
What HB 209 would do
Under the proposed law, a family member or law enforcement officer familiar with a person who may pose a risk to themselves or others can petition a judge for a protective order “to restrain a person from possessing any firearms or ammunition for a specified length of time.”
Opponents of the bill take issue with this as the judge hears only from one source before making the decision to remove someone’s guns from their home. They argue it’s a violation of due process.
However, Handy said there are due process considerations already built into the creation of protective orders that a judge would review. His bill is just an expansion of that order, he said.
The criteria needed to gain a gun-confiscating protective order include:
- Recent threats or acting violent.
- Violation of a recent protective order.
- Demonstrating a pattern of violent acts or threats with the last 12 months.
- Having attempted or threatened self-harm, such as suicide.
“Law enforcement just can’t show up and take your guns,” Handy said. There has to be a valid reason for it.
Individuals who lie to the court about the need for the protective order are subject to a third-degree felony.
After the order is issued, a police officer will show up at the subject’s door and request their guns and ammunition. Refusal to hand over the items can result in the issuance of a search warrant allowing police to enter the home.
However, if it is determined by the officer that the gun owner is responding in a way that could put others at risk at the time, that officer is given discretion to back off in order to de-escalate the situation.
Once the guns are confiscated, the owner is scheduled for a court hearing within 14 days. If a judge finds the gun owner is of sound mind and not a threat, he’ll order the guns and ammunition be returned.
Conversely, if the gun owner does not show up to the hearing or is still deemed a threat, the confiscation can last up to a year.
As to HB 209’s possibility of passing the Legislature, Handy said the odds appear fairly split.
Thirteen other states have enacted red flag gun laws, with several others considering them, Handy said.
- Read full text of bill: 2019 House Bill 209 – Extreme Risk Protective Order
- Contact legislators
- Bill sponsor: Rep. Stephen Handy
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- Southern Utah Reps. Travis Seegmiller, Bradley Last, V. Lowry Snow, Walt Brooks, Rex Shipp, Merrill Nelson and Phil Lyman | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives.
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