SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker wants to allow people experiencing a crisis to sign up for a list that would bar them from buying a gun from a retail store for a limited period of time.
Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, emphasized HB267 is not a so-called “red-flag law,” a type of law that allows close family members to request law enforcement to remove guns from those considered at-risk.
He sees the bill instead impacting, for example, someone discharged from the hospital after a suicide attempt.
“While they’re in a better state of mind, they can say, ‘You know what, I’m going to let a friend hold my firearms until I get feeling better, and I don’t want to be able to, in a moment of weakness, purchase a firearm.’ So they could then put their name on that list,” Eliason explained.
HB267 would require the Bureau of Criminal Identification to create a process and forms to allow Utahns to voluntarily put themselves on a no-buy list that would prohibit them from purchasing any firearms from a retail store for a temporary period of time. Under the bill, they could then request removal from the list within 30 days.
“This is completely voluntary and there is a mechanism where they can have a name removed,” Eliason said.
“We also know that about half of our annual suicides in Utah are from firearms, and we know that suicide is impulsive,” he said, explaining his reason for taking on the bill.
If someone at a difficult time doesn’t have access to a firearm, it can save their life, he noted. Eliason called the bill an “extension” of a “safe harbor” law that allows people to give their firearms to a police department temporarily.
But Nancy Halden, a board member for the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, said the law won’t do enough to stop gun violence in the state.
“I know Rep. Eliason and the other groups that are supporting this, and I know their intentions are good. Their intentions are to decrease suicide by gun. But I don’t think this bill will have a measurable impact,” Halden said.
People can already volunteer to give their guns to others for safekeeping, she noted.
“What I think this bill is designed to do is to provide political coverage for Republicans in Utah to claim that they’ve done something about Utah’s No. 1 gun issue, which is suicide,” Halden said.
She said such measures are “especially important” this session, as several lawmakers are pushing a bill to allow for permitless concealed carry of firearms. According to Halden, that would lead fewer gun owners receiving suicide prevention education.
Last year through the concealed carry permitting process, over 160,000 people saw that suicide prevention message built into that required class, Halden noted.
Her group supports red-flag laws, also known as “extreme risk protection orders,” and believes implementing one in Utah would save more than 30 lives each year.
“That’s significant. I don’t think this bill is going to save any lives. I hope I’m wrong, but It’s voluntary,” Halden said.
Should the bill pass, those who want to become temporarily restricted from purchasing a gun would fill out the form created by the Bureau of Criminal Identification that includes their name, address, birthday, contact information and signature, as well as an acknowledgement that they understand the law. They would then deliver the form to a law enforcement agency, which would need to verify the person’s identity before accepting the form.
Last year, Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, ran a similar bill through which he hoped to provide a tool for Utahns who may be in a time of crisis and are worried they’re a danger to themselves or others.
But the Utah Senate did not consider any gun bills in the final days of the session, instead holding legislation from both Republican and Democrat sponsors. Senate leaders said at the time that they wanted to spend more time on the bills and could consider them this year.
Eliason noted that the bill did pass the House, and said he’s “optimistic” it will get a fair chance to pass this year.
When a person requests to be removed from the list after 30 days, the bureau and law enforcement agency would need to remove the person’s record from their systems. If someone does not request to have their record removed, the agencies would need to remove it automatically after 180 days unless the person requests an extension.
Concealed firearm permit holders who request to be placed on the restricted list would also have their permit temporarily suspended until they are removed from the list.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, declined to comment on the bill.
The Utah Department of Health offers suicide prevention help on utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basics. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Help is also available through the SafeUT app.