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Bill provides avenue for once mentally ill Utahns to own guns

Published: Monday, Feb. 25 2013 5:55 p.m. MST

People who the courts have barred from possessing a gun due to mental illness would have an avenue to get that restriction lifted under a bill the Utah Legislature is considering.

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SALT LAKE CITY — People the courts have barred from possessing a gun due to mental illness would have an avenue to get that restriction lifted under a bill the Utah Legislature is considering.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said it's "unconscionable" for someone who has overcome a mental illness to not have the right to own a gun restored.

"In the state of Utah, there is absolutely no method, no matter how diligent you've been or no matter what treatment process you've gone through, and I don't think that's OK," Thatcher said. "It is my belief people can get better."

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, took issue with the proposal.

"If you want to be humane to someone with mental illness, you give them treatment, not a gun," Jones said.

"This bill does not give a mentally ill person a gun," Thatcher retorted.

The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 3-1 on Monday to send SB80 to the full Senate.

The bill provides a process for people who were once found incompetent to stand trial or were civilly committed to an institution to petition the state court to be removed from National Instant Check System database. It establishes requirements a person must meet before filing the petition.

Petitioners would have to undergo a mental health evaluation and sign a release allowing county attorneys' offices to access their mental health records. They have to be found to not be a danger to themselves or others.

"The threshold is fairly high," Thatcher said.

People who are in still in treatment or taking medication would not qualify, he said.

"I don't want anybody who's even questionable to be considered," Thatcher said.

The court would consider the circumstances that led to the person being restricted; the person's mental health and criminal history; and evidence concerning the person's reputation, including the testimony of character witnesses, according to the bill.

The judge would have find "clear and convincing" evidence that person is competent to own a gun.

There are currently 6,000 names on the restricted list. Thatcher said he would anticipate only about a dozen petitions a year.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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