SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker who describes himself as a passionate Second Amendment supporter has filed a new bill meant to reduce suicide and violence by gun.
But he insists it is not a “red-flag” bill.
And anti-gun violence advocates say the bill is pointless.
Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, on Wednesday released HB82, a bill that would allow Utahns to voluntarily put themselves on a no-buy list, or a list that would prohibit them from purchasing any firearms from a retail store for a temporary period of time.
The aim of the bill, Maloy said, is 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.
“They could be suicidal, they could have mental health issues, or some other crisis that’s going on in their home or whatever,” Maloy told the Deseret News Wednesday. “What I love about this is it’s totally voluntary. Nobody can force them to do it. Nobody can make them do it. It has to be voluntary.”
The bill would allow a person to voluntarily sign up with the Bureau of Criminal Identification to be restricted from buying a firearm from a retail store. The restriction would last for 30 days, after which the person would be able to request to be removed from the restricted list. The restriction would automatically expire after six months, according to the current draft of the bill.
It’s a bill that has a good chance to find support in Utah’s Republican-controlled Legislature, as it’s backed by gun rights advocates and drafted as part of a collaboration between the health community and gun community.
But anti-gun violence advocates from the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah say the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough — and they doubt it will actually help save any lives.
“This bill is going to have no effect,” said Nancy Halden, a board member of the group, who would rather see the Utah Legislature act on a “red-flag” bill that is languishing yet again on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
Halden said Maloy’s bill allows lawmakers to say, “Oh look, we did something,’ but if you do something that really is not going to affect the numbers, that’s not going to save lives, then you’re really just wasting time.”
“We delivered over 1,000 comments from Utahns that want to see something meaningful happen with gun legislation this year, and I think lawmakers are feeling that pressure and their response is to do something meaningless,” Halden said. “And the sad thing is numbers are going up while they’re doing that. People are losing their lives.”
But Maloy and the bill’s supporters argue the bill will have an effect — and it’s worth it even if just one life is saved.
“This is not a silver bullet,” said Morissa Henn, community health program director at Intermountain Healthcare, who has partnered with Utah gun rights advocates to seek solutions to gun violence. “This is meant to be a layer approach to add different tools in the toolbox.”
This approach, particularly when it comes to suicide risk or mental illness diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, is aimed at keeping people alive and safe in crisis — without infringing on Second Amendment rights, Henn said.
I don’t think it’s a law meant to stop the problem, it’s just to give people options and tools to do it.
–Nancy Halden, Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah
A similar measure has been adopted by one other state, Washington, and is currently under consideration in eight other states, including in Alabama this year.
And Henn argued it could help save lives, pointing to an Alabama survey that found that out of 200 psychiatric patients, 46% would want to sign up.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, is also backing the bill as a “cooperative effort” with Henn and the state suicide prevention coordinator.
“We are very pleased and hope to add this tool to help those in crisis while maintaining and preserving their rights,” Aposhian said.
Still, Halden and another Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah board member, Ed Rutan, aren’t convinced it will be effective. They say many people suffering mental illness also suffer from “anosognosia,” or a condition in which they are unaware of or unable to recognize their diagnosis. It’s a condition that often causes people diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to not take their medications.
“Those people are not going to sign up because they can’t recognize that they have a problem,” Halden said.
Maloy acknowledged his bill will likely be criticized as not doing enough — but he also argues it’s only meant to be one tool to help.
“I don’t think it’s a law meant to stop the problem, it’s just to give people options and tools to do it,” he said.
He noted people working with those in crisis — whether it be family, friends, clergy, mental health professionals — they can point to the voluntary restriction as an option and encourage their family member, friend or patient to sign up.
“It is up to them to take advantage of this tool,” Maloy said. “There’s going to be some people who don’t see how it can help, but for the people who use it, it will help them.”
Maloy said protecting Second Amendment rights is “very, very, important” to him, along with doing what he can to prevent suicide and gun violence.
“If anybody can do it, it’s gun supporters,” he said. “We should do it.”