SALT LAKE CITY — Holt Elementary School went on lockdown — blinds shut, lights off, students huddled — recently due to a domestic violence situation across the street involving a man with gun.
"One little boy said, 'Mrs. Davis, are we going to die?'" said Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton.
"I'm trying to find, and I believe with good faith you are, too, some kind of balance in our society today to stop that if we can," he told the House Judiciary Committee.
After nearly 90 minutes of testimony and debate Monday, the panel iced Handy's bill to allow district court judges to issue extreme risk restraining orders under which police could remove guns from a person shown to have a propensity for violent or emotionally unstable conduct. A family member who has lived with an individual at least six months could seek the protective order, according to HB483.
Lawmakers voted 7-4 to send the bill back to the House Rules Committee with a recommendation to study it over the summer. Handy said he expects the newly formed Utah School Safety Commission to consider the law and suggested the Legislature could address it in a special session later this year.
"I think that you'll see this get some traction. I just believe sooner than later Utah will have this in some form," Handy said.
The legislation as well as the Utah School Safety Commission arose in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month.
While committee members called the bill well-intentioned, some questioned whether taking someone's firearms through a restraining order violated due process rights.
"This to me is more of a gun confiscation effort than it is a public safety measure," said Rep. Brian Greene, Pleasant Grove.
The National Rifle Association and the Utah Shooting Sports Council opposed the bill.
"It's not just a gun issue. It's a mental health issue," Brian Judy, NRA liaison for Utah, told the committee.
Greene said the bill focuses more on guns than on addressing mental health issues because it doesn't offer services for a person deemed to be a threat.
Terms like "propensity for violence" and "unstable emotional conduct" were not well-defined in the bill, he said. The "preponderance of evidence" standard for obtaining a restraining order is too low, he said, noting Handy changed it from "clear and convincing" evidence in the original bill.
Representatives of the Utah Nurses Association, Intermountain Health Care Behavioral Health Services, Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah and a Navy veteran told lawmakers the bill would save lives.17 comments on this story
But Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, said she thinks it's "disturbing to hear over and over again" that it would save lives. People intent on violence or suicide don't depend on their own firearms, she said.
"What I'm saying is this bill does nothing to address that. It gives us a false sense of security if we truly think that this bill will save lives," she said.
Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said the bill fills a clear need in extreme emergencies to stop someone from causing harm.
"Think about it, if it's our child that is in that school would we not have said, 'Boy, I'm glad I voted for that bill,'" he said.