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SALT LAKE CITY — The lawmaker proposing a "red flag" law in Utah that would allow a judge to order firearms temporarily removed from someone considered a suicide risk or in cases of domestic violence met for a forum with advocates and opponents Wednesday.
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, told community members gathered in the Hinckley Institute that after the deadly shooting at a high school last year in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead, "I think we felt, as human beings, how can these things happen?"
He said he has worked with others to come up with a law that "carefully threads the needle … between (keeping people safe) and what I respect and adhere to as a constitutional right."
"This is a very, very tough bill. Utahns are (experiencing) lots of mixed feelings and messages," Handy acknowledged during the forum hosted by KSL Newsradio's JayMac News Show.
The goal of the forum was not to engage in a "major debate" but to give the community a grasp on the proposed law and its pros and cons, host Jay Mcfarland said. The debate mostly followed that format, with only a few heated moments.
Those in the forum who agree with proposed bill HB209, sponsored by Handy, emphasized that it would be used as a last resort in extreme situations. States that have similar laws have seen drops in suicide rates, they said.
Monica Bellenger, health policy coordinator for Action Utah, which bills itself as a nonpartisan community advocacy group, said that extreme risk protective orders can "serve an important gap in the law, in that they are identifying people who are at extreme risk" but who don't fall into categories that would prohibit them from owning a firearm.
But that's just what Clark Aposhian, chairman for Utah Sports Shooting Council and gun rights activist, took issue with.
"What this bill would do is it would take a respondent who has not committed a crime, nor have they been accused or suspected of committing a crime, subject them to a search and a seizure … and a seizure of that property. … And all without a hearing prior to that search and that seizure," Aposhian said.
Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, who also opposes the bill, said Utah law already has measures such as the so-called "safe harbor" law that allows people to voluntarily give their guns to law enforcement when their households are under stress. He said though he also considered the idea of a red flag law, he came to believe it would infringe on Second Amendment rights.
"I just couldn't bring myself to do something that would, in the name of protecting people, start infringing on our rights," Maloy said. He is proposing a resolution that would stress the importance of doing "everything we can to protect the people of Utah with our current laws."
Morissa Sobelson Henn, community health program director at Intermountain Healthcare, brought up examples for when the safe harbor law would not help — in the hypothetical case of an 85-year-old with dementia who talks about shooting people, or a teen with bipolar disorder threatening to harm himself. Those people would not voluntarily give up their firearms, she said.
Jennifer Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, also emphasized the need for the law in Utah, which has a higher rate of domestic violence homicide than most.
The national average of homicides committed by a family member or former intimate partner is 30 percent. In Utah, that number is 42 percent, Oxborrow said.
"I think safety is a constitutional right," Oxborrow said. "I'm pro-safety, and we have to do something about it here. … We lack laws to help people who are perpetrating domestic violence obtain the safety and support they need."
During his closing comments, Handy said that he doesn't know if the bill will pass this year, but "it will sometime, it absolutely will, because the momentum of the people is very, very clear that they are at their wits' end with these situations."
According to Aposhian, the forum gave him an "even better understanding" of how he doesn't like the bill.