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SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers will again consider a so-called "red flag" law to take guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others as a way to head off a potential mass shooting.
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, intends to bring back legislation for extreme risk protective orders or gun violence restraining orders after his bill failed to get out of committee in the 2018 legislative session.
“There’s no single solution to mass killings, but these red flag laws that are popping up in many states could turn the tide,” he told the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday.
Handy said protective orders can be readily obtained for domestic violence situations involving two people, but there’s a gap in the law when threats are made against the masses.
Lawmakers don't have a bill to consider at this point, but Handy intends to draft one in the coming months.
His earlier legislation would have let district court judges issue extreme risk restraining orders under which police could remove guns from a person shown to have a propensity for violent or emotionally unstable behavior. A family member living with the person would have had to initiate the process under that proposal.
To date, 10 states have red flag laws, eight states have legislation pending and 14 states, including Utah, have rejected them.
Supporters and opponents of extreme risk protective orders packed the hearing, with one side wearing March for Our Lives T-shirts and other in Utah Gun Exchange T-shirts.
The Utah Shooting Sports Council sent an email urging its members to attend the meeting and advising them to "dress appropriately and be on your best behavior, so the news media will not find any 'rude gun nuts' stereotypes to tarnish the image of Utah's law-abiding gun owners."
“If were going to do something, let’s do something without violating our constitutional rights,” said Sam Robinson, co-owner of UtahGunExchange.com. Guns, he said, should not be viewed as a singular problem in school violence.
Randall Doyle, a Utah Shooting Sports Council board member, said red flag laws are a “favorite tool” of the gun ban movement.
Health care workers told the committee such a law is not an anti-gun approach to preventing gun violence.
Monica Bellenger, an Action Utah health policy coordinator, said the laws can be crafted to balance a person's constitutional rights and public safety. She noted that the majority of gun deaths in Utah are suicides.
Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, said his father committed suicide 40 years ago, and that he still beats himself up about it. He said had he taken his father's guns away, the impulse to take his life that day wouldn't have happened.
"I think I could have prevented that. I've lived a lifetime wishing I had done something different," he told the committee. "I understand this. It is very real."
Afterward, Ipson said he doesn't have a position on red flag laws but that legislators need to study the issue.
State lawmakers have taken steps before to promote firearms safety.
A gun safety program the Legislature created in 2014 has distributed a "firearms safety packet," including a cable-style gun lock, to health care providers, mental health practitioners, suicide prevention groups, gun safety courses and school districts. It still has 23,500 of the free packets left to hand out.
The Department of Public Safety also is working to on a public service announcement for June and July.