SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Victims advocates are pushing for a law that would temporarily remove firearms from a person who poses a dangerous threat to themselves or others, prior to a conviction.
“We need laws that protect families and help them sooner rather than later,” said Jenn Oxborrow.
The Executive Director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition says her organization wants lawmakers to pass an Extreme Risk Protective Order bill (also known as ERPO, ‘red flag’ law, or Gun Violence Restraining Order or GVRO) during the upcoming legislative session.
“We’re trying to raise awareness about how this could work in a fair way and not infringe on people’s civil liberties,” Oxborrow explained. “We’re not trying to take people’s guns away. We’re trying to improve safety.”
According to advocates, Utah’s red flag bill would not:
- Violate constitutional rights
- Charge someone with a crime
- Allow an order to be granted without sufficient evidence
- Solve Utah’s high rate of suicide alone
Oxborrow told ABC4’s Brittany Johnson that ERPO would only be used for extreme risk situations.
“It would be very few cases, but these are the worst cases, Brittany. These are the ones that show up as really devastating murders. These are people threatening to go shoot up a mall or a movie theater. These are people who are perpetrating really awful acts of violence and terror in front of schools.”
Opponents believe an ERPO bill would make it too easy for a victim to obtain a protective order, but Oxborrow says the burden of proof the petitioner would have to provide the court “is actually really high.”
“It would be a very significant set of details and information that you would have to provide to the court. It’s not anyone that gets angry at you that could go and make this accusation. And in fact, making a false accusation when seeking a protective order is a felony offense. It says that on the form.”
According to Action Utah, the people allowed to file an order would be the following:
- Family member
- Individual who has lived with the respondent within the past six months
- Law enforcement
“Law enforcement will tell you that a protective order gives them a very clear boundary within which they can act and respond to someone and it gives us a legal documentation history of what’s been happening with someone with risks,” said Oxborrow.
In order for the bill to be effective, Oxborrow said it would have to pass with an ex parte order.
Ex parte requires the respondent to surrender his or her firearms and ammunition to the law enforcement officer who serves the order pending a hearing.
“We need real policies that work. No more policies that are in sheep’s clothing,” Oxborrow said.
Extreme Risk Protective Order laws have been around for over 20 years and exist in 17 states (red, blue and purple) and the District of Columbia.
President Donald Trump is currently pushing for a bipartisan federal ERPO bill by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R) and Richard Blumenthal (D) that would encourage states to pass red flag laws and provide funding to those that do.
Chief Gary Giles, Orem City Police Department, sent ABC4 News the following statement in regards to an ERPO bill being passed in Utah:
I have talked to Jenn about ERPOs and the needs for them. I have had to think long and hard about them. I am a pro guns-rights person, but I am also a police officer who has seen many people take their own life or the lives of others. Some of those situations could have been prevented, but our hands were tied at the time. I have come to the personal conclusion that I AM in support of ERPOs (even in ex-parte situations) as long as the wording leaves discretion to police officers so that we do not get forced into a no-win situation such as having to force our way in to a home to remove weapons from someone who is only a danger to themselves. Recently in Maryland, officers went to a home to confiscate weapons under a Red Flag Law and were forced to shoot the suspect when he presented a threat to them. Obviously, these are the exact situations we are hoping to avoid.
If you or someone you know are a victim of domestic violence, call UDVC’s 24-hour LINKLine at 1-800-897-LINK (5465).
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