Forth: Utah Legislators Should Work to Reduce Gun Violence


Piper Armstrong

(Graphic by Piper Armstrong | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kate Forth, Opinion Writer


As of this article, the third anniversary of the murder of Lauren McCluskey, a University of Utah student, draws near. Her ex-boyfriend shot her to death on campus on Oct. 22, 2018. This tragedy’s anniversary should have Utah legislators considering how they can help reduce gun violence in our state.

Gun violence remains a prominent issue in Utah. Nearly 400 Utahns were killed by gun violence in 2019, with 51 of these deaths labeled as homicidal. 2020 also set some records for homicides in Utah, with 80% of homicides resulting from gun violence.

Utah legislators need to pass gun control laws in the 2022 Utah Legislative Session to prevent gun violence. ERPO laws and laws requiring universal background checks for Utahns could potentially help reduce gun violence if passed.

An Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) allows for the temporary restriction of firearms to people who are at high-risk of harming themselves or others.

In practice, a family member or law enforcement officer petitions a court to instate an ERPO for an individual. The court then investigates to determine if the individual poses a threat. If the judge deems so, an order will be instated for every year a judge renews it. The state will then hold the individual’s firearms for that time.

Currently, 19 states enforce ERPO laws. Of these states, Connecticut and Indiana have seen a notable decrease of gun violence. Connecticut saw a 14% reduction in gun suicides since the enforcement of ERPO laws, and Indiana saw a 7.5% reduction in gun suicides. Gun homicides have also decreased in Maryland and Florida, which both have ERPO laws.

In the 2020 Utah Legislative Session, Rep. Stephen Handy introduced House Bill 229 which sought to establish ERPO laws in Utah. However, the bill failed to pass the Utah House of Representatives. Rep. Handy said in an interview that as a gun owner and supporter of the second amendment, we should start from the perspective that “mentally ill people should not have ready access to firearms. If we cannot agree on that, then we have really no hope of solving the problem.”

Guns falling into the wrong hands also exacerbate gun violence across the U.S. right now. Unlicensed gun sellers in the U.S. can sell firearms without conducting background checks. This could allow those with criminal records to purchase guns. If Utah requires universal background checks, then people couldn’t exploit this loophole anymore.

In the 2021 Utah legislative session, Rep. Brian King introduced House Bill 205, which would require universal background checks for all Utah gun sellers. In an interview, Rep. King described the realities of background checks. “I’ve gone through that process myself. It’s not difficult. It’s not time-consuming. It’s not expensive,” he said. “There’s a comprehensive national database that people run your name through, and it’s simple.”

Utah legislators should reconsider these bills not only because of their effectiveness, but also because a majority of Utahns also favor these bills. From both sides of the aisle, 67% of Utahns are in favor of universal background checks and over 60% of Utahns are in favor of ERPO laws.

Despite this bipartisan support, Rep. King and Rep. Handy agree that gun lobbyists are loud, influential and misinformed about the constitutionality of these laws.

Rep. Handy stated that opposition claims his bill was unconstitutional. He said in an interview, “If it’s unconstitutional, why have the courts never ever overturned it [in other states]? It’s a weak case on their part.”

Similarly, Rep. King claims that his bill failed because “there are a few loud voices and a few deep pockets who fund candidates …  who are extreme.” He claims that the extreme voices are dangerous because they “grab people’s attention and get their way.”

These voices that Rep. King mentioned prevent Utah from keeping its citizens safe, especially children.

When I was fifteen years old, my little sister and I faced the frightening reality of gun violence in schools. A student brought several guns and boxes of ammunition into school and shot a round before someone stopped him and he was arrested. No one was physically hurt, but that shooting undeniably impacted my life. No student deserves to have their life cut short in such a preventable way.

Utahns can help by voicing their support for these bills to their elected officials. Rep. King said, “If regular people stood up and spoke out, it’d make it a lot more easy for legislators, even on the conservative end of the spectrum, to work to pass these kinds of bills.” Rep. Handy recommended that Utahns also voice their support, but by a citizen’s initiative.

ERPO laws and Universal Background check laws save lives. Utah desperately needs to instate these laws to save lives. A citizen’s initiative involves gathering public support for these bills and presenting it to the state legislature to convince them to pass it. Representative Handy said that “it’s a high bar because you have to get thousands and thousands of signatures to get on the ballot, but it could happen.”


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