ST. GEORGE — A majority of Utah voters support prohibiting the sale of firearms to individuals who are determined to be mentally ill by a mental health professional and have been reported to law enforcement as a possible threat, according to a poll published Wednesday.
The poll, conducted by Utah Policy and Y2 Analytics, reports that 87% of Utahns support the concept of preventing firearms being sold to those with mental illness.
Voters who characterized themselves as “strong Republicans” supported preventing such gun sales at a rate of 83%, while “not very strong Republicans” came in at 84% support. “Not very strong Democrats” were 99% supportive, while “strong Democrats” were polled at 94%.
Among male and female voters, men were 81% in favor of preventing the gun sales while women were 92% in favor.
Utah Policy has been releasing various gun-related poll results this month, with results showing a majority of Utah voters — 88% — support requiring background checks on all firearms sales, while 74% believe additional gun control legislation won’t violate the Second Amendment.
Various gun control measures have been proposed and drafted by Utah lawmakers in recent years, but they haven’t gotten far.
These efforts have included a “red flag” bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, that was introduced during the last legislative session but was never heard in committee.
Handy’s bill would allow family members of someone believed to be a threat to themselves or others to petition a judge for an order allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate that individual’s guns. This process would involve an expedited court hearing in which the judge would determine whether the firearms should be returned to their owner at that time.
According to Utah Policy, lawmakers are expecting proposed gun control bills to be prevalent during the 2020 legislative session, particularly in the wake of mass shootings in Texas, Ohio and elsewhere.
Wayne Connors, president of the Utah Southwest chapter of the National Association on Mental Illness, said he supports the idea of red flag gun laws and keeping firearms away from those who may harm themselves and others.
“I don’t see a problem with it at all,” he said, noting that when it comes to the issue of people who contemplate suicide, getting guns out of their immediate reach is one of the first things he recommends. “You just get rid of them, even temporarily.”
According to a legislative report that came out last year, over 80% of suicides in the state involve firearms.
“They see it as an easy way out,” Connors said.
Republican Congressman Chris Stewart also expressed his support for red flag gun legislation during a recent town hall meeting in Hurricane.
“Perhaps taking efforts to take weapons away from those who have indicated they are going to do violence or people who have mental health concerns – I think that’s the first place to start,” Stewart said.
A Southern Utah legislator who believes Utah already has sufficient laws on the books regarding gun control is Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George. He was among the co-sponsors of a House resolution in 2018 that declared lawmakers should consider the application of current gun-related laws versus passing new ones.
“Before we throw another law out there, we need to look at what’s already here,” he said.
As far as keeping guns out of the hands of those with mental illness who may be dangerous, Brooks told St. George News the state must do its part to make sure an individual’s rights are protected and due process is observed.
“I think, generally speaking, no one wants someone insane to get a gun, but we must take peoples’ rights into account,” he said.
The complete results of Utah Policy’s poll are available online.
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