As debate over guns continues to rage in the state and across the nation, Representative Dixon Pitcher (R-Ogden), has decided to step into the fray with HB 121, Firearms Safe Harbor.
Pitcher’s proposal is an interesting one that would allow an owner or co-owner of a gun to be able to turn in said gun to a law enforcement agency if they feel that a person with who they are co-habitating poses an immediate threat to themselves or others. This “cooling off” period could last up to 60 days, afterwhich the gun would be returned.
What makes this proposal interesting is that the individual who is posing the threat could also be the co-owner of the gun that has been taken away, and therefore could legally demand of the law enforcement agency that the gun be returned immediately, regardless of another individual’s personal safety, the safety of the requester, or the safety of the public.
Presumably, this provision is added to accommodate gun rights activists who feel that no law enforcement agency should be detaining a weapon without due process. Adding to the legitimacy of this claim is the fact that the law enforcement agency charged with holding the gun in question may not request or require that the person dropping off the gun provide any details of the situation (like if their life is being threatened or who is posing the danger) .
The reality of this provision is that, not only does the bill not have any teeth, it could also put people into direct harm.
It is not unreasonable to imagine a scenario where a wife, concerned about the fact that her husband brandished a gun while in an argument, turns in the gun to receive safe harbor for 60 days, but doesn’t say anything to the police out of fear of reprisals from the husband. The husband, more enraged by the loss of his weapon, pressures the wife (either physically, emotionally, or both) to divulge what happen to the weapon. Enraged, the husband marches down to a police station, demanding his gun back. Officers, not knowing why the gun was placed into safe harbor in the first place, have no direct grounds to question the husband and must return the weapon. The husband then returns home, perhaps blind with rage, and acts on his anger…with a weapon handed over to him by the police.
People, when threatened, should take whatever steps necessary to ensure their protection, and the concept of a firearms safe harbor could achieve this. However, the bill as currently written is deeply flawed. The easy fix is to require, or at least allow, officers question why a weapon is being placed in safe harbor in the first place – this way, not only is the weapon immediately removed from a situation that could do harm, but trained officers could also interview the co-owner of the detained gun to see if further action is necessary. Though pro-gun activists may balk at the idea of any weapon being removed, this compromise could strike a better balance between the right to feel safe and the right to bear arms.
This bill, as it stands, is an example of a good idea with poor execution. An amendment may be enough to address these concerns, but as of right now, this bill should not move forward.
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Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Great Bill 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 . -1 . -2 . -3 . -4 . -5 Poor Bill