Utah lawmakers consider new ‘red flag’ gun control law, but where do Southern Utah representatives stand?

This March 2018 file photo shows participants in the St. George March for Our Lives demonstration, one of several held across the United States organized by youth and young adults that called for better gun control measures as a way to prevent mass-shootings at schools, St. George, Utah, March 24, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, told lawmakers Wednesday that he is drafting a new gun control bill for lawmakers to consider after the one he sponsored in March – extreme risk protective order, designated HB 483 in the 2018 Legislature – was voted down in committee.

Rep. Stephen G. Handy, R-District 16 | Profile photo courtesy Utah House of Representatives, St. George News

The new bill would allow police to temporarily confiscate weapons from people who are believed to be a threat to the public. It would also penalize parents of children who commit a crime with a gun that is easily accessible.

The major changes to the new bill include defining “dangerous weapon” to include things like cars, bombs and knives in addition to firearms. Another change is that the person who may be considered dangerous will be referred for a mental health evaluation. It will also include a clear plan for how and when the weapon would be returned to the person in question.

The proposal will be similar to other “red flag” efforts that several states have passed – and others are considering – in response to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that took the lives of 17 people this year.

Handy told St. George News that if the bill is passed, it would serve as an expanded protective order. The current protective order laws temporarily confiscate firearms from a person who has made threats to harm another person. If this bill is passed, it will expand that law to allow the confiscation of weapons from those intending to do mass harm.

“There’s no silver bullet,” Handy said. “It’s a tool in the tool box for law enforcement for an individual like the Parkland shooter, who was making mass threats. There were all kinds of calls to law enforcement. The FBI didn’t do anything, the local law enforcement didn’t do anything, because they didn’t feel that they had the tool.”  

The Utah School Safety Commission shared their recommendations Wednesday afternoon for how to prevent school shootings, including the idea of a red flag proposal. The commission was created in the wake of the Parkland shooting and comprises state officials, students and a gun rights advocate.

The commission recommended that the state establish a waiting period for those wanting to purchase guns, require a background check for all firearm sales and make it easier to confiscate guns from people who are deemed a threat.

Members of the commission said there was some disagreement over several of the recommendations, many of which are likely to be controversial in the Legislature because of their reluctance to pass gun control bills.

“We have to get to a point in society where we have to decide,” Handy said. “Some people are so psychotic and so deranged that would cause such mass harm, that we have to step in on a temporary basis and see if we can get them help. And remove the means by which they could do mass harm in a legal way.”

Handy hopes to present the bill later this year, which would require a special session to be called. Otherwise it will not be voted on until 2019. Republican House Speaker Greg Hughes and other lawmakers requested that Gov. Gary Herbert call the special session to consider some of the measures that are widely agreed upon, like requiring Utah to to report background check information to a national database and requiring school mental health teams.

Students released from a lockdown embrace following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 14, 2018. In the wake of the shooting, the Washington County School District superintendent sent a letter to parents reaffirming the district’s commitment to safety in the schools. | Photo by John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via Associated Press, St. George News

The governor is reviewing the recommendations and may consider having a special session if the state House and the Senate can reach a consensus, Herbert’s spokesman Paul Edwards told The Associated Press.

In May, Herbert said he was open to the idea of potentially enforcing new gun control measures, including a more intensive background check.

Universal background checks “may not be something that happens this year,” Elizabeth Love, 18, a member of the commission told the Associated Press. “It’s inevitable it will be passed eventually. It’s just a matter of sooner rather than later.”

Several members of the GOP-controlled Legislature said they may be open to considering voting for the bill, while others stand firmly opposed.

Southern Utah Rep. Lowry Snow disagreed with some items in the original bill and was a member of the House Judiciary Committee that voted against the bill in March. He told St. George News that he made recommendations to Handy, adding that if his recommendations are addressed in the new bill, he would be more likely to support it.

“I think it’s a bill that should be heard,” Snow said.

However, he said he will need to read the proposed bill in its entirety before making that determination. Snow suggested new legislation should include added protection for the individual whose rights would be challenged, specifically going through due process and expediting a court hearing. He also said that the person in question needs to be subject to protection by their Second Amendment rights. 

“I think it’s an area that we need to look at,” he said. “I think with certain indications that someone is dangerous, and that the danger is imminent, something needs to be done.”

However, Southern Utah Rep. Travis Seegmiller told St. George News he is firmly opposed to the bill because the citizens in his district are strongly opposed to a red flag law, which they see as an attack on their Second Amendment rights.

A major concern Seegmiller has with Handy’s proposal is that the confiscation of guns can be problematic in regards to constitutional due process and is legally complicated. The original bill placed the burden of proof on the accused, who would have to prove their innocence before qualifying to retrieve their confiscated firearms.

“Stripping someone of a constitutional right is a very serious thing,” Seegmiller said.

Seegmiller said there are many good ideas that were not included in the commission’s recommendations and that numerous other – and better – bills are in the drafting process.

A group of pro-Second Amendment lawmakers, including Seegmiller, are in the process of preparing alternative legislation that they believe better represents the values of Utah citizens.

Many people would like to see a solution that would make schools a more difficult target instead of threatening due process and Second Amendment rights with confiscation legislation, a concept that was not included in the commission’s recommendations, Seegmiller said.

As the recommendations from the commission did not have bipartisan support, Seegmiller said there will still be a large amount of debate and analysis before the legislation can move forward with anything.

Seegmiller encourages Utah citizens to contact their representatives to voice their opinions on the matter.

“I will be there at every turn to fight to protect our constitutional rights,” Seegmiller said. “These gun-control measures have a long uphill battle before they become law.”

Handy projects that the bill will be through the draft stage by the end of July or the first part of August.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Updated June 22, 10:30 a.m. to include additional comments from Rep. Lowry Snow.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • Not_So_Much June 21, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    What the ______ ! If you want to live in New York or CA please move there. Rep Handy is proposing action that would cause mass harm and should have his kitchen knives, car, computer, legislative credentials all removed based on this threat and NOT returned.

    • mesaman June 21, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      Could he be related to that celebrated writer, Jack Handy?

  • Gene June 21, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    Perish the notion that we should teach our kids about all the dangerous things in this world and how to safely deal with them. Dumb politicians make dumb people. Sad.

  • jaltair June 21, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    In my opinion, the bill that will be introduced by Representative Handy places unconstitutional restrictions on the individuals right to keep and bear arms. If Utah were to vote in favor of this to-be-introduced “Red Flag” bill, it would be challenged in higher courts because of the individual who is “Red Flagged” will not have the due process.

    Rather than restricting guns to certain individuals who are a “threat” (a “threat” not well-defined), my thoughts are that schools need to be made safer to prevent guns or other weapons from entering the schools, in other words, a more difficult target.

    Write your state legislature reps to voice your opinion!

    • IPFreely June 22, 2018 at 2:01 pm

      I’m I a threat? Who gets to decide?

  • bikeandfish June 21, 2018 at 11:40 pm

    Hard to draw any meaningful conclusions until the bill is drafted. As a gun owner I am for gun reform but the criticisms of his previous bill are fair. The burden of proof should be on those confiscating weapons until a court proves a citizen is dangerous. And confiscating weapons should be justified for very explicit, narrowly defined reasons to avoid abuse of power. Without those its hard ro support such a legal option.

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