More than a decade ago, after a LDS Church security officer was shot and killed in a downtown church facility, then-Church President Gordon B. Hinckley publicly wondered out loud why a mentally ill person (as the shooter was termed to be) can still buy a gun in Utah.
There was a brief flurry in the Utah Legislature (80 percent of whom are faithful members of the LDS Church) about what, if anything, to do about crazy people getting and using guns.
But the hub-bub died away and nothing on that front was much accomplished.
Now comes Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan, a medical doctor and public health administrator and his HB202.
The bill, introduced last Friday, “restricts a person who has been civilly committed to the custody of a local mental health authority from the possession, purchase, transfer, and ownership of a dangerous weapon.”
While Redd’s bill and the LDS security guard’s death so many years ago may have little to do with each other today, at least one GOP legislator is willing to try to restrict guns from people who really shouldn’t have them.
“It is a small change, really,” says Redd, who is actually an “examiner” for forcibly-committed mentally ill patients.
The aim of HB202 is to provide better tracking and committing ability of people “who are dangerous to themselves and to others,” said Redd.
“At least this (bill) is a small step. It does nothing, and is not meant to do, anything about the teenager who goes into a theater and shoots people.
“It does nothing, and is not meant to do, anything about the person (who may own guns) and commits himself for voluntarily treatment.
“It only deals with those who are civilly committed for mental treatment,” Redd adds.
Still, HB202 “broadens” civilly-commitment powers, and so in that narrow range is an attempt to tighten up who can legally own a gun, and keep one.
Usually, gun bills in the Utah Legislature deal with opening up gun ownership, concealed weapons permits or attempt to exempt Utahns from federal gun laws.
“For those who can’t make rational decisions; who themselves may not believe they are a danger, but for those around them, they believe the person is a danger – it is aimed at them.”
Under current law, in order to commit a person two mental health professions, perhaps a medical doctor and a PhD physiologist, must agree after an evaluation about whether a patient is not only medically ill, but a danger to themselves and others, said Redd.
There are five criteria in that examination that must be met. Then the doctors go before a judge, who issues the mandatory treatment order.
If that is done – and the person is dangerous – then law enforcement can take steps to keep guns or other dangerous weapons from that person’s possession.
During the Hinckley-inspired mentally-ill and gun-owner debate of years ago, gun rights advocates argued that just the threat of losing your guns and/or gun rights would stop mentally ill Utahns from seeking mental health treatment.
And so such an attempt would be counterproductive.
Redd said HB202 doesn’t pose that concern – for anyone seeking voluntary treatment would not fall under his new law.
“It applies only to those who are civilly determined to be a danger to themselves or others – who are so ill they don’t know they are ill, or who refuse to get help when clearly they need it.”