SALT LAKE CITY — Members of Utah’s chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America braved icy streets, harsh winds and snow-slicked sidewalks to meet at the Capitol to advocate for gun legislation introduced during the 2020 legislative session.
Their efforts were part of the group’s yearly advocacy day in which members from across Utah come together to speak with lawmakers about legislation they believe will make the state safer.
This year, Moms Demand Action promoted two pieces of proposed legislation: an extreme risk protection order bill numbered HB229 from Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, and HB109, a universal background check bill from House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
Though more than 200 people had said they’d attend Monday, state chapter leader Mary Ann Thompson praised the about 40 people who were able to make it in the midst of heavy winter weather, including some who brought their children after classes were canceled due to snow.
“They really genuinely care,” Thompson said.
As part of their efforts Monday, Moms Demand Action Utah volunteers waited outside of the House and Senate floors to speak with lawmakers. Dressed in red shirts, some shared personal experiences about why they are in favor of the bills while others shared general information.
HB229, commonly referred to as “red-flag” legislation, would enable a family member or someone from law enforcement to request that the court strip firearms from a person in crisis. Following that request, the court could then set a hearing in which the firearm’s owner would have the opportunity to present their case.
This isn’t the first year the legislation has been introduced. In the three years it has been presented, the bill has never gotten past committee.
“We believe it is a critical piece of legislation to start enacting things to improve gun safety legislation and reduce gun deaths,” Thompson said. She believes that if lawmakers look to their constituents for their thoughts on extreme risk protection orders, they’ll find many who support it.
Thompson, whose brother died of suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said extreme risk protection orders give people the chance to get a firearm away from somebody they love when they are in danger of hurting themself or others.
Suicide is the seventh-leading cause of death in Utah, and on a national scale Utah’s suicide rate ranks sixth, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Thompson said many people have seen someone they love in a desperate situation, which can leave them feeling helpless.
“If we can get this in place we can give families one thing they can do,” Thompson said of Handy’s legislation.
She called gun safety a “multifaceted problem.” Extreme risk protection orders can actually lead people to get some of the help they need to make it through that crisis, she said.
Some, like Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, argue that extreme risk protection orders are unnecessary, unconstitutional and often misused.
He told the Deseret News last week that he believes Utah already has laws in place that are effective in separating people in crisis from their guns, as well as getting them mental health help.
Aposhian, who successfully fought a protective order sought by his-ex wife after a 2013 incident, said all extreme risk protection orders do is take one of the many tools that a person in crisis has, but leave the “dangerous item in the equation” — the person — alone.
Thompson said anybody who doesn’t understand the bill or feels fear or concern over it should educate themselves about extreme risk protection orders.
“If you have the facts I think it makes a whole lot of sense and reduces any fear to what the bill might do,” she said.
In a news conference before the group went to speak to lawmakers, King spoke about his universal background check bill and other gun legislation, which would require a background check to transfer a firearm between people lacking federal firearms licenses.
Current law dictates that licensed sellers conduct background checks on buyers, but private sales don’t face the same restriction. King’s legislation would make it so any unlicensed person who buys or sells a firearm in violation of the law could be charged with a class A misdemeanor on the first offense.
There would be certain exceptions, such as transactions between family members or transactions by or to a law enforcement agency.
King introduced similar legislation during the 2019 legislative session, which also failed to make it out of committee. He said Monday that background check bills keep guns out of the hands of individuals who shouldn’t have them in the first place.
“This is a just cause,” King said. “It’s not a question of if we pass these kinds of laws. It’s just a question of how many lives we’re going to lose until then. Let’s make sure we pass these laws as quickly as possible and save as many lives as we can.”