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New nationwide push to prevent gun violence has Utah ties

U.S. Attorney John W. Huber speaks at a press conference about Project Safe Neighborhoods at TNT Guns and Range in Murray on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. This year, he's working with a Justice Department initiative called Project Guardian to help prevent gun violence. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — National and state officials say it’s time for everyone to work together to better prevent gun violence.

Project Guardian, a new nationwide effort, comes from the US Department of Justice and the US Attorney General’s office. It looks at better communication, investigation, prevention and prosecution of gun crimes.

US Attorney for Utah, John Huber, says many acts of gun violence can be prevented.

“One of the common things we have found is that people have raised a flag,” Huber said. “Someone at the school, someone in the family, or someone in law enforcement has noted, ‘This person concerns me.'”

Huber, who was a prosecutor at the time, says he often remembers the Triad Center shooting 20 years ago. On Jan. 14, 1999, a woman entered KSL’s lobby and asked for access to the newsroom. When she was denied, witnesses say she started shooting. One person, an AT&T employee who worked in the building, died.

Huber feels better communication could have prevented that tragedy. De-Kieu Duy, the woman later identified as the shooter, has never been ruled competent to stand trial and remains in a mental health treatment facility. But an article printed by the Deseret News the day after the shooting reported Duy had a history of mental health troubles and was well-known to local police.

Under Project Guardian, agencies would share more information to prevent shootings like that one. Huber says the goals are clear:

“To identify those who show signs of risk to our safety, and then use the laws we have and aggressively enforce them, to find these people,” he said.

Utah officials already share some resources through federal firearms laws and the Utah Crime Gun Intelligence Center. Project Guardian, Huber says, ramps those efforts up.

“Law enforcement, wherever you work in the United States, and community members, key stakeholders in the community — we need to rise up and work better together, communicate better, to protect one another,” Huber said.

The plan emphasizes enforcing gun restrictions based on domestic violence and mental health history. Huber said it also includes a more rigorous prosecution of gun crimes.