Proposed ‘red flag’ law in Utah seeks to prevent gun violence, including suicide

Stock photo, St. George News

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.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, location and date of photo unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah House of Representatives, St. George News

Read more: Report shows correlation between Utah firearm deaths and suicides, offers strategies and safety measures

“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.

Read more: Hundreds call for ‘more sane’ gun control during protest march in St. George

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 more: See all St. George News reports and opinions on Utah Legislature 2019 issues

Resources

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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