2020 Bills

HB 229: “Red Flag” Gun Control Law Violating Due Process

This bill did not receive a vote.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill

Staff review of this legislation finds that it violates our principles and must therefore be opposed.

House Bill 229, sponsored by Representative Steve Handy, aims to add Utah to the list of few states that have a “red flag” firearm law. As with similar laws elsewhere, HB 229 would create a process by which a family member or roommate of a firearm owner, or a police officer, could petition a court to order the removal of that person’s firearms and ammunition.

This would be done through an ex parte order, meaning the firearm owner can’t defend him or herself against the judge’s order.

Rep. Handy has sponsored similar bills in the past two sessions, which have not gotten a committee’s support. He has suggested that this proposal is “maybe a piece of the puzzle,” indicating the problem that there’s no guarantee that this restriction on gun rights will actually address the problem of mass shootings and firearm-assisted suicide.

The troubling aspect of this bill is its deprivation of due process, making it difficult for those accused of being at risk to prove that they aren’t. Further, the bill focuses only on firearms, rather than on other items that can be used to harm one’s self or others. If a person is at risk of harm to self or others, then we should explore how to get that person help, rather than simply taking their gun away and potentially making them mad.

There is a potential for dangerous altercations with law enforcement officers who would be tasked with going to the person’s home to take possession of their firearms and ammunition. If the officer feels there is some reason not to take possession of the firearms, but instead merely provide the paper order to the firearm owner, they are allowed to not do so—meaning, the person would retain possession of their firearms, undermining the purpose of the bill (to remove weapons in pursuit of safety against an imminent risk).

Failure to surrender weapons to the police officer serving the warrant then becomes the basis for a search warrant for officers to forcibly enter and remove the weapons.

The bill also makes it a felony to provide false information to obtain an order, provide a firearm to somebody subject to an order, or for a person under such an order to possess a firearm or ammunition if violation of that order.

This overreaction to a mass shooting in another state aims to set up a highly regulated system in which an individual’s right to keep and bear arms can be undermined through an ex parte order, violating the presumption of innocence that persons should maintain in order to have their rights preserved. Further, firearms should not be targeted in the absence of a broader approach to regulating dangerous weapons.