Biden’s call for ‘red flag’ laws falls on deaf ears in the Utah Legislature

‘There’s absolutely no appetite for this kind of law’ says one Republican who has repeatedly tried to pass such legislation

(Evan Vucci | AP file photo) President Joe Biden is shown speaking during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in this March 25, 2021, file photo.

President Joe Biden’s call for states to pass so-called “red flag” laws to allow police officers and family members to ask a judge to temporarily remove firearms from people who may be a danger to themselves and others won’t find a receptive audience in Utah.

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, proposed such a law in 2018, 2019, and 2020. He first pushed the idea after the Parkland school shooting in Florida, but his Republican colleagues are dead set against it.

“There’s absolutely no appetite for this kind of law in the Utah Legislature,” says Handy.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of red flag law. A 2019 poll found 86% of Americans support laws allowing the removal of guns from people that a judge determines is a danger to themselves or others. That number includes 94% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans.

Handy expresses frustration when talking about his efforts to win approval for what he calls a “common sense” proposal to reduce gun violence. There’s only been one public hearing on his bill, which happened during the waning days of the 2018 session where it was held by the House Judiciary Committee. The other two times the bill never made it out of the House Rules Committee.

The main objection to his bill, according to Handy, was a lack of due process when removing guns from an individual — that it gave too much power to a judge. He says any attempt to find a compromise with gun rights advocates fizzled because of that worry.

“In 2020 I met with House leadership where they told me they don’t see any path for passage, so they felt the best course of action was to save everybody the grief of having to debate the bill, so I just dropped it,” said Handy. He has not proposed the idea since.

Along with suggesting state passage of red flag laws, Biden signed executive orders directing the Justice Department to come up with rules to ban so-called “ghost guns,” homemade firearms that don’t have serial numbers and aren’t subject to a background check. He also proposed reducing access to stabilizing braces that can turn a pistol into a more lethal rifle. The suspect in the mass shooting at a supermarket in Colorado used a brace to make his pistol more accurate and deadly.

Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, is one of the most ardent gun rights advocates in the Utah Legislature, and he thinks Biden’s proposals are a complete non-starter in the state.

“You know me, I’m a big Second Amendment proponent,” says Maloy. “All of these ideas are very troubling to me.”

Maloy worries today’s executive orders from Biden just set the table for more aggressive gun control measures from the administration in the future.

“I think this is just the beginning,” warns Maloy. “I wouldn’t encourage him to go further with this.”

Maloy says it’s the job of Congress, not the president, to take action on gun regulations. But, he doesn’t want Congress to change anything either.

“The best thing they could do is leave it alone and respect the Second Amendment,” says Maloy.