State legislator aiming to improve gun background checks

2013-01-06T00:03:00Z 2013-01-07T07:04:34Z State legislator aiming to improve gun background checksBilly Hesterman - Daily Herald Daily Herald
January 06, 2013 12:03 am  • 

A state legislator is looking to address the breakdown between Utah and the nationwide background check system used when someone purchases a firearm.

"There is a disconnect between what people think the law is and what is actually happening, so I'm trying to address that," Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said.

The state's system is set up so a person who has been civilly committed or determined mentally ill in association with a crime would be placed on Utah's no-buy list. However, there is no certainty that the person would be put on national databases, meaning he wouldn't be flagged when attempting to purchase a firearm outside of the state.

Thatcher explained that the current understanding is that there is a breakdown between the courts and Utah's Bureau of Criminal Identification. His understanding was that the bureau is hesitant to put anyone on the flagged list until they are certain they have the correct person and the proper information to identify him.

The problem arrises because the courts are reluctant to release an individual's personal information, and the BCI does not want to put the incorrect person on the list. Thus, no information is recorded or passed on to national databases.

Thatcher hopes to huddle with representatives from the court community, the BCI and gun activists to see if a law can be crafted that will fix the reporting problem and help keep firearms out of the hands of those who may not be competent enough to safely handle a gun. At the same time, safeguards need to be in place to prevent the wrong person from being placed on the list. He also wants to look at options for people to have their names removed from the list if they show enough capacity to earn the right to own a firearm.

"I fully expect to have the complete and total support of the gun community," Thatcher said.

Gun activists who lobby at Utah's Capitol Hill are supportive of at least sitting down with Thatcher and the other parties to discuss what can be done to make sure firearms are kept away from those who may not be mentally fit to handle a firearm. Clark Aposhian of Utah's Shooting Sports Council said he supports having the conversation and believes it is important that Utah and other states are consistent in how they deal with mental health records and firearms sales.

Aposhian, though, believes it will take more than a simple change in Utah's reporting laws to ensure that guns are kept away from those who shouldn't have them. He said a culture change needs to come where responsible people can identify situations where a friend or family member may be mentally unstable and that they should then act to remove the guns from the troubled individual -- similar to someone taking away the keys from a friend who may have had too much to drink.

"If I had a friend who was drinking too much and about ready to leave, I would have no problem with physically taking the keys away from that person," Aposhian said. "That is a socially acceptable thing to do. In fact it is unacceptable to not do it. ... We need to get to that kind of a point where we care about someone's safety and security so much that we would essentially take their keys in regards to firearms."

Aposhian speculated that until society takes responsibility to keep guns away from those who shouldn't have them, no law will have the impact many are hoping for it to have.

Thatcher plans to have a bill to address Utah's reporting errors for the upcoming legislative session, which starts on Jan. 28.

-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can follow him on Twitter at: @billyhesterman
Read more from Billy Hesterman here.

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