‘Red flag’ bill allows a judge to confiscate guns if a person is deemed to be dangerous

Guns 01

State Rep. Steve Handy has introduced his so-called “red flag” gun bill, and while he says he’s already “fatigued” by the controversy it has arisen, he will see it through the 2019 Legislature.

“Right now, I see a 50-50 chance for it. We’ll see,” Handy, R-Layton, told UtahPolicy.com Wednesday morning after HB209 was made public.

You can read the bill here.

Tuesday, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, specifically asked by UtahPolicy.com about the bill, said he sees no need to change any gun laws this year – as he thinks Utah has a good balance now. But he did not oppose HB209, either.

Basically, the bill provides a legal method to quickly take guns and ammunition away from a “violent” person who is found by a judge to be dangerous.

The short version of the bill:

It allows an immediate family member to seek a quick court ruling on whether their loved one is an “extreme” dangerous threat to themselves or others.

But key to this discussion is that the judge would only hear, at first, from the concerned family member, who swears under 3rd Degree felony penalty that they are telling the truth.

If a “preponderance of evidence” is found that the troubled person is dangerous, the judge “shall” issue the “extreme risk protective order.”

A cop will show up at the person’s home, show the legal writ, and demand all of the person’s guns and ammunition.

The troubled person will get a court hearing within 14 days.

But he may well know nothing about the court action taking his guns until the police officer is at his door asking for them.

If at that hearing the judge decides to continue the order, or if the troubled person refuses to attend the hearing, the order to confiscate firearms can last a year.

Clark Aposhian, head of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, spoke to UtahPolicy.com shortly after he emerged from a meeting with House Speaker Brad Wilson on Handy’s bill and other issues.

“We don’t support” HB209, said Aposhian. Instead, they like a gun rights resolution being run by another House member.

The real concern, said Aposhian, is that HB209 allows a judge, without hearing from the gun-owner, to order his guns be taken. “It violates 2nd, 4thand 5th Amendment rights,” he said.

And the “preponderance of evidence” is a standard for a finding in a traffic accident – a wholly inappropriate “trampling” of constitutional guarantees, he said.

Aposhian said his group and others are concerned about suicide prevention and have worked well with state and local governments on this issue. HB209 is not the way to about those concerns, he added.

“I see this really as a public health issue, not a gun issue,” said Handy, who says he’s not trying to trample on anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights, but wants to give some kind of legal pathway to taking guns away from a really dangerous person, who could hurt himself and others.

Thirteen other states have so-called “red flag” laws, with another 18 legislatures likely hearing such laws during 2019, said Handy. “We are certainly not unique here” in his bill.

“We hear that 85 percent of all suicides in Utah come with guns,” said Handy. “We need to do something about this” – especially if family members know their mentally-challenged loved one has guns and is thinking of suicide.

Handy says over the last year – he briefly introduced his “red flag” bill at the end of the 2018 session – he’s worked with a variety of groups, including 2nd Amendment advocates, including Aposhian.

Handy said he’s incorporated “eight to 10” suggestions from gun rights advocates in this new version of the bill.

But the basic concept is still there: Without a gun owner’s knowledge, a family member can go to court, get that extreme protective order writ, and then a cop can show up at the troubled man’s door demanding his guns.

There is some leeway in the bill, however.

It says that if a police officer, confronting the man at his door, believes that taking the guns at that time actually endangers the man’s family members more than leaving the guns, the cop can back off and leave.

But the judge can then issue a search warrant, the police return, and search the house taking the weapons and ammunition.

So a very hot confrontation at the door for the police can be avoided – at least for a time.

“We have protective orders now for someone being threatened with violence by another – a wife getting one on an abusive husband,” said Handy.

His bill is really aimed at helping family members get guns away from a troubled family member who may injure himself with the weapon.

“We really don’t have a way” to quickly get guns away from the possible suicide victim – and his “red flag” bill is aimed to do that, he said.