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SALT LAKE CITY — People the courts have barred from possessing a gun due to mental illness would have an avenue to get that restriction lifted under a bill the Utah Legislature is considering.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said it's "unconscionable" for someone who has overcome a mental illness to not have the right to own a gun restored.
"In the state of Utah, there is absolutely no method, no matter how diligent you've been or no matter what treatment process you've gone through, and I don't think that's OK," Thatcher said. "It is my belief people can get better. You can heal. You can become whole."
Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, took issue with the proposal.
"If you want to be humane to someone with mental illness, you give them treatment, not a gun," Jones said.
"This bill does not give a mentally ill person a gun," Thatcher retorted.
The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 3-1 on Monday to send SB80 to the full Senate.
It is my belief people can get better.
–Sen. Daniel Thatcher
The bill provides a process for people who were once found incompetent to stand trial or were civilly committed to an institution to petition the state court to be removed from the National Instant Check System database. It establishes requirements a person must meet before filing the petition.
Petitioners would have to undergo a mental health evaluation and sign a release allowing county attorneys' offices to access their mental health records.
"The threshold is fairly high," Thatcher said. "You must prove not only that you are healthy, but that you are no longer a threat to yourself, no longer a threat to others."
People who are still in treatment or taking medication would not qualify, he said.
- The circumstances that led to the person being restricted
- The person's mental health and criminal history
- Evidence concerning the person's reputation, including the testimony of character witnesses
"I don't want anybody who's even questionable to be considered," Thatcher said.
However, some lawmaker see the measure as a "gun bill" and they object.
The judge would have to find "clear and convincing" evidence that person is competent to own a gun.
Thatcher said another upcoming bill would require in mental health cases more than a name be added to background check databases -- likely a social security number and date of birth, so there aren't mix-ups with identity.
"Once they're released they could leave the state and pass a background check -- because we're keeping that data to ourselves," Thatcher said.
There are currently 6,000 names on the restricted list. Thatcher said he would anticipate only about a dozen petitions a year.
Contributing: Andrew Adams