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Gun bills front and center during legislative session

(Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

UTAH STATE CAPITOL – People from both sides of the political aisle will be tackling the issue of guns during this legislative session.  The sponsors of the bills say brutal crimes in Utah made them want to take action, but, gun rights advocates say both bills have major problems.

Just yesterday, several schools in Salt Lake County went into “shelter in place” after someone made threats against daycares and preschools.  Turns out, the threats were not believed to be credible, but, if they were, Representative Steve Handy says his “red flag bill” would be designed to keep those threats from becoming violent realities.

“I think there are 13 states that have [similar laws] and about 20 or so are considering them in this legislative session,” Handy says.

He tried a similar bill last year, but, it didn’t get out of committee.  Handy says the new version of the bill would still let officers remove guns from a home where someone is either making broad threats to the public, or to themselves.  He wanted to make this bill to tackle the high suicide rates in Utah and he believes more steps should be taken to remove the weapon from the potentially dangerous scenario, at least for a while.

“This is temporary,” Handy says, adding, “There has to be a hearing in 20 days.”

He insists this is not a “gun grab,” but his critics strongly disagree.

“We’re talking about taking someone’s property when they have not committed a crime, nor have they even been accused of committing a crime,” says Clark Aposhian with the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

Aposhian says their biggest concern with the bill is a potential lack of due process.  Also, he believes it would leave the potentially dangerous person without psychological help, and they could be dangerous with things like knives or a car.

Handy’s bill isn’t the only one the USSC has an issue with.  They also oppose Representative Andrew Stoddard’s bill designed to expand the civil liability of someone who loans their gun to another person who later uses it in a crime.

Aposhian says, “It’s going to [allow] suing for damages on people who have nothing whatsoever to do with a crime.  If they knew the person, or suspected the person was going to commit a crime or was prohibited, there are already laws against that.”

Their group says if liability can be laid against someone who lends a gun, what’s to stop it from being laid against someone who legally sells a gun to a criminal, unknowingly.  However, Stoddard says that’s not how his bill would work.

“It’s not going to extend to gun sales, or anything like that.  It’s specifically for when you own a firearm and you let someone borrow it,” he says.

Stoddard says he was inspired to make this bill after the shooting death of Lauren McCluskey.  Police say her killer, Melvin Rowland borrowed the gun from a friend after lying about what he was going to do with it.

“You can’t know what someone else is going to do with that,” Stoddard says, adding, “but, you better make sure you trust the person before you give it out because it’s a great responsibility to own a gun, and it should be a greater responsibility to loan it out to somebody.”

Neither of the bills have been fully drafted, yet.