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Utah bill aims to prevent suicide at point of gun sale

FILE — Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, talks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016.
FILE — Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, talks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah ranks fourth in the nation for its high number of suicide deaths, and 86 percent of all gun-related deaths in the past year were deemed to be suicides.

"There's no reason we shouldn't do everything in our power to stop this," said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who is sponsoring a bill that would develop an education program for firearm retailers to help them identify one-time gun buyers intending to use the guns for suicide.

HB390 is patterned after the now nationally successful New Hampshire Gun Shop Project that began in 2009. Various states have been able to cut down on suicides, saving lives at the point of sale.

Eliason said firearms retailers and shooting range owners aren't required to comply with the proposed program, but information will be disseminated to help them know and teach others about the potentially risky behaviors and attitudes to look for when working with the public.

"This will hopefully help them avert a tragedy," Eliason told the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. The committee unanimously recommended to send the bill to the House floor for consideration.

It is the second time he has sponsored the legislation, though last year the bill was introduced late and didn't make it to the Senate in time.

Eliason said other gun safety campaigns have been helpful and can continue, including teaching new gun owners how to properly disengage and store firearms with trigger locks, but many Utahns are still purchasing firearms for a fatal, one-time use.

"We're looking for those numbers to drop," Clark Aposhian, gun rights activist and chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, told the committee.

Aposhian said he's optimistic that HB390 can bring down the number of Utah suicides "without government mandates" or gun control.

"This bill will further our ability to protect our families, our neighbors and our friends, as well as protect our freedom," he said.

Mark Brinton, director of government affairs for the Utah Medical Association, said the program seems to be "a good way to approach our needs."

"We should do all we can to reduce suicide in this state," he said.

The bill carries a $9,800 fiscal note, which lawmakers agreed was very reasonable for what it aims to accomplish.