This article by Savannah Pace originally appeared in the Herald Journal News. Read it in its entirety here.
Utah Rep. Handy talks new legislation on gun violence
The frequency of mass shootings and a growing concern about gun-related violence and suicides brought Utah Rep. Stephen Handy (R-Layton) to Cache Valley to visit with concerned residents Wednesday night about balancing constitutional rights with the need to take preventative action.
Handy was invited by Cache Valley United for Change, a community group, and discussed, in depth, a bill he sponsors called the Extreme Risk Protective Order act.
ERPOs, or red flag laws, have been around for over 20 years, and while they exist in 17 states, Utah has yet to debate the bill on the floor. The bill would allow a judge to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person whom a judge determines poses a threat to themselves or others. The bill tends to be a hard conversation for some lawmakers and residents alike.
“We are going to have a conversation that some of you will like and some of you will hate,” Handy said as he welcomed the growing crowd, “and that is OK because it is America and we can have a nice conversation.”
While many other proposed gun control laws are quite controversial, Handy said this legislation is a more bipartisan approach to an overwhelming problem.
This legislation has been debated in many states who have not yet adopted the idea of empowering courts to take away guns. Last year when Handy brought this bill before the Utah State House of Representatives for the second time, the bill didn’t get a hearing.
Carrie Butler, the policy director for Action Utah, said that while this is a hard and complicated process to make sure people are protected and rights aren’t being stepped on, a recent poll showed bipartisan public support for this bill at 68%.
“People have had it and they are now willing to make it known in ways they haven’t before,” Butler said.
Handy, motivated by the support and the need to do something to save lives, is prepared to reintroduce his “red flag” bill for the third time this upcoming legislative session.
He made sure to clarify that this bill gives family members concerned about the safety of their loved ones or themselves the opportunity to present their concerns before a judge. The judge can then order the gun confiscated for up to one year.
Eighty-five percent of firearm deaths in Utah are from suicide, and recently Utah was reported to have the fastest growing rate of gun sales in the whole nation, according to a study using FBI background check data.
Handy said he gets asked all the time about how he could dare bring up a bill like this one as a Republican, and he knows it is not a perfect solution but that he needs to try and do something.
“It has been very disheartening because I feel that it is common sense that we should have a public conversation about this,” Handy said.
This is just an effort to let the air out of the tire or defuse the situation before it costs a life, he said. Handy emphasized the need for conversations like this one to continue so the bill can be refined and solutions can be found.
“I think one of the big takeaways from this meeting is that we are sitting here after the meeting talking about the issues side-by-side,” said Susan Jelus, a self-proclaimed dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, as she pointed to Nathaniel Wright to her right, a Republican.
“I came here for just over an hour and went from having little to no knowledge on this issue to now engaging in important conversations,” Wright said.