She might have thought, 'Am I safe having these guns in the house?' I'd like to create that option for somebody. —Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden
SALT LAKE CITY — A bill made public Thursday would create a "safe harbor" for guns in troubled homes by allowing an adult to temporarily turn in the weapons to a law enforcement agency.
Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said he came up with the idea for HB121 after December's deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The victims included the mother of the shooter, who used her weapons to kill 26 people, including 20 young children.
Pitcher said while he has no way of knowing, he believes the shooter's mother may have been concerned about having guns in her home because of her son's apparent mental health issues.
"She might have thought, 'Am I safe having these guns in the house?'" Pitcher said. "I'd like to create that option for somebody."
The bill would allow an adult living in a home with weapons to give them to a law enforcement agency for up to 60 days if that adult believes someone else in the home is an immediate threat.
That threat, Pitcher said, could be "a child or someone suicidal. You might have someone with mental issues. There might be an ongoing marital dispute."
Once the emergency has passed, the gun could be retrieved by any adult in the house, he said.
Now, Pitcher said, families might ask clergy to hold on to weapons in that type of situation. He anticipated only a few families would take advantage of the opportunity to store their weapons in a safe place while dealing with difficult situations.
"This is the idea, saving a life by getting a gun out of the house," Pitcher said. "If it saves a life, it's beneficial or if it gets them out of a short-term, out-of-control emergency."
He said he kept the bill protected from public scrutiny while it was being drafted because of the controversy that typically surrounds gun-related legislation. Thursday was the deadline for making protected bills public in the 2013 session.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said he is not familiar with the details of the bill but the concept could be troublesome.
"I have a lot of questions," Aposhian said, especially about allowing someone other than the gun owner to turn in weapons, leaving the gun owner defenseless.
"We're going to have a big problem with denying the right own a firearm," he said. "We're going to have a problem with that if someone else in the household is denying you your right to have a gun."
Aposhian said he's aware of the "very volatile situations that can occur in a household, whether it is between a husband and wife, or kids and parents, or whatever. But there are other avenues that need to be explored first before you take the property of another person."
Pitcher acknowledged that gun owners might feel their rights were being violated if another family member takes their weapons out of the home.
"For 60 days, it's true," he said, adding that the gun owner can reclaim his or her weapons.
"We've gone overboard, to make sure no one feels … this is being done for retribution," Pitcher said. "It's only short-term."