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Utah lawmaker waves white flag on ‘red-flag’ gun bill

Sponsor worries it may take ‘horrific incident’ to compel Utahns, legislators to act

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker who for years has been trying to push “red-flag” legislation on Capitol Hill says he’s likely to drop his bill again amid lack of support.

Rep. Steve Handy told the Deseret News his efforts haven’t found traction yet again in Utah’s GOP-controlled Legislature — and he’s worried.

“I’m afraid that it’s going to take some horrific incident to happen that people will say, ‘Legislature, you could have done something, why didn’t you do something?’” Handy told the Deseret News on Tuesday. “I’m afraid that’s what it would take. I hope and pray that’s not the case.”

It’s the third year Handy has tried to push a “red-flag” bill — or legislation that would enable a family member or someone from law enforcement to request a court strip a firearm from a person in crisis, either in danger to themselves or others. But yet again, Handy is hard-pressed to win enough votes.

“It’s very clear that particularly Republican members of the House are uncomfortable with it,” Handy said. “At this point they’re getting a lot of pushback from gun rights folks and that makes them nervous.”

For another year, Handy is left deflated.

“It’s very disappointing,” he said.

Handy, a Republican from Layton, said he himself has been a gun owner his whole life and understands the importance of Second Amendment protections, but he’s also tried to find common ground between gun advocates and anti-domestic violence and anti-suicide advocates to find “commonsense” legislation.

Handy said it may also take a “cultural shift” in Utah to accept extreme-risk protective orders in gun legislation — and an uprising of Utahns voices to drown out the loud gun lobby.

“I think it will take some kind of a change like that for really the silent majority to rise up and say, ‘You know what, this is commonsense, it makes sense,’” Handy said. “But right now the loudest voices are gun rights supporters. They’re very tunnel visioned about it and they don’t want to see anything except, ‘This is a gun grab.’ And this is not a gun grab.”

Handy said his bill will “live to fight another day,” but he’s not sure if he’ll bring it back next year, noting he’s made all the changes he can to the bill.

Handy’s move to abandon his bill comes after groups rallied to advocate for Utah gun legislation — and even as the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah members delivered over 1,000 comments from across the state to Utah legislators Tuesday.

Nancy Halden, a board member of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, said she’s disappointed, but understands Handy’s “frustration with his fellow House members and their reluctance to act on this.”

Still, Halden says she’s not going to give up.

“We’re hoping that with over 1,000 comments from people all over Utah that these representatives will understand how important it is,” she said. “I have to say, collecting these comments has been one of the easiest things I’ve done. People are so frustrated with this issue.”

Halden said gun suicide and domestic violence homicide are two of the biggest problems in Utah, and “we could save a lot of lives” with an extreme-risk protective order.

“I don’t understand why every year the number of lives lost go up, and I don’t understand why the legislators are so reluctant to enact this good law,” she said, though she added Utah’s gun lobby has unmistakable influence.

She urged Utahns to reach out to legislators and make their voices heard.

“A lot of representatives are intimidated by the gun lobby, and I think they need to hear from their constituents,” she said. “My experience with the gun lobby is they are few and noisy, but people need to speak out.”

Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, has argued that extreme risk protection orders are unnecessary, unconstitutional and often misused.

He told the Deseret Newsrecently 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.

“We do not apologize for our position on this bill due to its serious flaws,” Aposhian said Tuesday. “Efforts have been made over the last two decades to pass this type of legislation in various states and, to date, 32 states have rejected it outright.

“Violating a constitutional right by using the evidentiary standard one uses in traffic court is not appropriate or common sense,” he said. “We have worked on real solutions to address those in crisis for the last seven years and would welcome Rep. Handy’s help in meaningful legislation.”