Utah could soon have a red flag law

Monday , March 05, 2018 - 5:00 AM

REP. STEPHEN G. HANDY, special to the Standard-Examiner

Saturday’s Standard-Examiner editorial from Bloomberg View titled “More states should raise the red flag on gun violence” was right on. Some people are too dangerous to themselves and others to have ready access to firearms.

  • RELATED: “More states should raise the red flag on gun violence”

The editorial’s focus is exactly what is incorporated in my new bill, House Bill 483, Extreme Risk Protective Order, which will be heard today, Monday, March 5, in the Utah House Judiciary Committee. Although the 2018 Legislature adjourns at midnight Thursday, there’s still time to get this bill through and provide law enforcement and the public a procedure through due process to remove guns from persons experiencing mental crises. I expect that there is a lot of support, and there should be.

To be clear, I own guns and have a concealed carry permit, although I have never carried. I have hunted and plinked most of my life and I enjoy the heft and feel of a rifle or pistol in my hands.

My wife and I have six children and never worried about sending them off to school and whether or not they would return. But times have changed, and not for the better. Now we have 15 grandchildren and their parents, our children and their spouses, are fearful. Could what has happened in Parkland, Florida, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, happen in Sammamish, Washington, Cedar Falls, Iowa, or Millcreek or West Bountiful, Utah? Fortunately, we don’t know the answer and hope and pray we will never have to find out.

When my daughter called frantically to say, “Dad, what are you going to do?” it hit me hard. That’s when I discovered that five other states have enacted these extreme risk laws, sometimes called gun violence restrictive orders, and began my effort. Eighteen other states, now including Florida, are working on these measures at present.

Essentially, the law will bridge what’s already in effect for a protective order. Under due process, a person can petition the court for their safety when someone makes threats and has access to firearms. This happens fairly frequently, and we’ve all heard of situations when it was too late to intervene.

The measure I am sponsoring bridges that gap but uses the same steps in due process. If a person makes documented threats to others or himself or herself, a petition can be made, a judge reviews the evidence and the extreme risk protective order is either granted or denied. If accompanied by clear and convincing evidence, the court may grant an order that prohibits the person from owning, purchasing, possessing or receiving firearms, as well as having guns his or her custody or control. A hearing must be held within 20 days. If granted, the firearms must be surrendered for up to 20 days and another hearing is set.

Another provision of the bill would allow law enforcement to act more quickly if a district court judge issues a warrant because it is deemed the situation is likely to escalate out of control and the 20-day option is too slow.

I’ve been asked, “What about false claims?” Again, that is covered under the protective order statute. The person making the complaint is subject to felony prosecution if the claim is proven to be false.

I believe this is a common-sense approach that respects a person’s constitutional rights and still maintains public safety.

And as I’ve been saying, please let’s make this conversation more about public safety and mental health than about guns.

I’m on the same page as Ivy Rose Stuart, a senior at Ben Lomond High School quoted in a Standard-Examiner front-page story on Feb. 26: “We’re not trying to get rid of guns, we’re just sick of seeing kids die.”

Please contact your legislators and tell them HB 483 makes good sense for Utah.

Rep. Steve Handy is a Republican who represents the 16th District in Layton. Email: stevehandy@le.utah.gov

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