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Even support from President Trump doesn't 'seal the deal' for a Utah red flag law, lawmaker says

(Spenser Heaps, KSL, File)



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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah legislator who sponsored a failed "red flag" bill to get guns away from someone threatening to harm themselves or others said Monday even President Donald Trump's support "doesn't seal the deal."

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, told the Deseret News he's still not sure he can get the legislation passed after Trump's Monday speech about a pair of deadly mass shootings over the weekend.

"That didn't happen in Utah. There's this thing where we keep saying, 'This couldn't happen here.' Really? It could happen today," Handy said. "That's the tragic thing about this. We want to remove ourselves."

The president called on the country to condemn white supremacy, develop social media tools to "detect mass shooters before they strike," and "stop the glorification of violence in our society," including "gruesome and grisly" video games.

He also proposed reforming laws to better identify disturbed individuals who may commit violence and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill with red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.

"Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun," Trump said in addressing the deaths of 31 people and the wounding of dozens more in shootings in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday and Dayton, Ohio, early Sunday.

"We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process," he said. "That is why I have called for red flag laws."

Handy, who has refiled the bill for the 2020 session, said he isn't sure anything has changed since he first tried to get legislation through in the days after 17 people were killed in February 2018 by a shooter at a Parkland, Florida, high school.

"I think the jury's still out on that. I think that remains to be seen," he said. Handy said he backed the bill after getting a call from his daughter in Seattle who is the mother of four boys, asking him what he was going to do to stop the violence.

His bill had the backing of then-House Speaker Greg Hughes, a Republican from Draper who did not seek reelection and is considering a run for governor, but ran up against the gun rights lobby, Handy said.

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"It had a rough hearing on the very last day that we could have hearings. It didn't go anywhere," he said. When he brought the legislation back the following year after interim study, it stalled again.

"The opposition was so withering. … I haven't had too much appetite to bring it out," Handy said of his bill. "Their loud voices are going to have to be stood down, quite frankly."

He said his bill makes it clear that only close family members or those who have had a close association with someone for six months or longer could go to court and try to have that person's guns taken away.

A judge could temporarily remove firearms for 10 days, Handy said. At that point, a judge could choose to return the firearms or refer the person to mental health treatment and keep the guns for up to a year.

"It's the judge who decides," Handy said, rather than "a knock and grab in the middle of the night" by law enforcement as he said opponents have portrayed red flag laws.

He said his focus with the bill has shifted to suicide prevention, noting that red flag laws fill a gap left when a person is a threat to themselves or the public at large rather than someone close to him or her who could be helped by a protective order.

"These red flag laws do work," Handy said. In the case of those with knowledge of someone contemplating a mass shooting, "they would feel more empowered to speak up. There's a legal path here."

Opponents of red flag laws in Utah weren't swayed by Trump's support.

"It doesn't change my mind," said Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, the sponsor of a successful bill clarifying Utah's "safe harbor" gun law last session. "If (the president) is supporting red flag laws I would be disappointed, to be honest with you."

The law allow spouses and other adults who live with a gun owner to surrender firearms to law enforcement if they believe the owner is at risk of harming others or himself or herself. But the gun owner can retrieve the firearms.

"The problem that's inherently wrong with a red flag law is it creates a 'Minority Report'-type world," Maloy said, referring to the 2002 science fiction movie where psychics help apprehend criminals before they act.

Red flag laws are "gun control wrapped in a nice wrapper," he said. "We want to do everything we can to prevent people from being hurt. But at the same time, we can't start allowing people to become criminals before they've committed any crime."


There's this thing where we keep saying, 'This couldn't happen here.' Really? It could happen today.

–Rep. Steve Handy


Gun lobbyist Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said red flag laws are "ripe for abuse, and I am one of those people that believe, along with many, many others, that protective orders in general have been abused."

Aposhian, who successfully fought a protective order sought by his ex-wife after a 2013 incident that resulted in a plea agreement, said people "should have an opportunity to defend themselves or defend their property."

He said red flag laws still leave a dangerous person free to commit mayhem.

"They could still be dangerous with a pack of matches and a five-gallon can of gasoline, as we saw in Japan recently," Aposhian said, a reference to a July arson attack on a Kyoto animation studio that killed 33 people.

He also took issue with "folks that don't like guns in any way," siding with Trump on his support for red flag laws.

People who "chant up and down every time the president says something," are listening to him on gun control, Aposhian said. "Now they somehow find this is fantastic. You can make of that what you want. … I don't think the irony is lost."

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake, said Democrats and liberals in the state trying to put restrictions in place to curb gun violence do appear to have a new ally.

King, who is bringing back a bill requiring background checks for gun buyers, said when Trump decides to "say or do something that helps you, you're not going to be picky or choosy about it. You're going to say, 'Well, great. We'll take what we get.'"

But he said recent polls showing a majority of Utahns don't support another term for Trump in 2020 suggest the president's words might not carry much weight with GOP lawmakers who hold a supermajority in both the state House and Senate.

"I would have said a year ago that Trump's position on something would have made a difference to Republicans and conservatives," King said. "But I think it's becoming more and more ambiguous."

Chase Thomas, executive director of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, said the nation, as well as Utah, "definitely need" and support red flag laws but whether the latest incidents mean lawmakers will make that happen remains to be seen.

"I feel like that's the question that's raised after every major mass shooting," Thomas said. "I felt like Sandy Hook should have been that. Parkland should have been that. I mean, hopefully, this will be that."

Contributing: Dennis Romboy

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