UTAH (ABC4) – Early this month, President Biden pushed for more laws at the state level that would enable officials to take guns from those at risk of harming themselves or others.
Red flag gun laws have been proposed in the Utah legislature in the past, but have not been passed into law. And the person behind this push is not who some might expect.
Utah Representative Stephen Handy is a Republican, a gun owner, and a self-proclaimed supporter of the Second Amendment.
“I’m certainly a Second Amendment supporter, have a concealed carry permit. I own and use firearms,” he tells ABC4. “But what I was interested in, is a solution to the explosion of suicides, particularly by firearms.”
According to Rep. Handy, under a red flag law, using a warrant issued by the court, law enforcement can “temporarily remove someone’s firearms” if they’ve “risen to a level of mental state where we should pay attention that they are going to do harm to themselves or others.”
Rep. Handy says it was the data that drove him to push for these gun laws.
He cites a study from the Utah Department of Health that indicates that 85% of suicides in the state are carried out by firearms.
He says red flag gun laws are a “tool in a toolbox” that can be used in extreme situations to keep people safe.
“In many instances, individuals get in such a bad way that they see no hope. Their families have tried every way to remove that tool that’s going to do harm to them or others,” he says.
Under a red flag gun law, as a last resort, families could go to court and file a petition. The judge has to look at levels of due process and then would issue an order to law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms. When the court-issued amount of time is up, the person can come back to court and either prove they are in a stable mental state and can have their firearms back or find that they have to be retained a bit longer, Rep. Handy explains.
Data shows that in these extreme situations, red flag laws can aid family members and law enforcement to deescalate a situation, he says.
Rep. Handy says he has been told that red flag laws are unconstitutional. His comeback?
“All these other states have had them for a long time, and never once have these laws been overturned on a constitutional challenge, so the only way to ever determine if something is unconstitutional, is it has to go to the courts,” he says. “Let the courts be the arbiter of constitutionality.”
Rep. Handy says he’s tried for three years to get red flag gun laws passed in the state, and he’s not planning on trying again.
“I tried it for three years. I just don’t think there’s the political will in the state of Utah to pass one of these bills regrettably, so I’m not going to be bringing it back anytime soon… it’s just too high of a hurdle. It doesn’t have the support.”
He says he thinks it would only take something horrific for the public to rise up and fight for these laws, but he hopes and prays nothing like that ever happens.
“I thought that it’s a common sense approach to deescalating and to help with suicides,’ he explains.
But Rep. Handy still thinks these are discussions worth having.
“We should have these discussion because everyone has to start out and say, there are some people who should not have access to firearms. That’s proven over and over again. So let’s look at a methodical, common sense, legal way to temporarily remove them. Get these people help so we can stop the mayhem,” he states.
Utah Representative Cory Maloy has different views on red flag gun laws.
“I think the biggest problem with it is you’re trying to anticipate somebody’s motives before they do anything and frankly, it’s just another way to confiscate and control guns from people who are law-abiding citizens,” he explains. “Trying to determine if someone is going to commit a crime before they actually do is just not a good thing.”
He says laws are set up to punish criminals, and trying to punish people when they haven’t committed a crime is “fundamentally incorrect.”
Utah has laws in place already to protect and provide support to those who need it, he says.
“They allow people to voluntarily do the right thing with firearms in situations that may be tense. We have people who reach a point where they are suicidal or attempt to commit suicide. Those are some of the bigger issues here in Utah, and we presented bills and passed bills that help with that,” he explains.
For example, Rep. Maloy says he passed the Safe Harbor Bill, which allows people to voluntarily remove firearms from their home if there is a situation that is unsafe.
“There are no questions asked, it’s all voluntary,” he says.
He says there’s a law that allows people to voluntarily place themselves on the no purchase list. They can put themselves on it and take themselves off.
There are also many laws and programs aimed to prevent suicides in the state, he says.
For example, people can use the Safe Utah app. There are also Safe Utah apps specifically for frontline healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, and the Utah National Guard.
He says it all comes down to responsible gun ownership.
“We can talk about taking away Second Amendment rights or we can promote responsible gun ownership, and I think that’s where we should really lie… that means doing the right things if there’s stress or depression going on in the home… it’s all about being safe and responsible,” he says. “There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with gun ownership.”
Rep. Maloy says he is fundamentally opposed to red flag gun laws and sees them as “just another control tactic to confiscate firearms from people who are law abiding citizens.”
There are a lot of things we can do that are a lot better than infringing on second amendment rights, Rep. Maloy says.
“Let’s be responsible gun owners. We are all concerned about suicide. We are all concerned about violence.”