"Safe Harbor” Bill Would Allow Gun Owners to Turn Over Weapons to Police Without Undue Scrutiny

Feb 22, 2013

One of the six gun-related bills heard yesterday at the Utah Legislature, was a bill to let gun owners turn their weapons over to law enforcement officials, no-questions-asked, for safe keeping and later retrieval. Here is what the “Safe Harbor” bill requires.

Using the tragedy of Sandyhook Elementary as his footing, Republican Representative Dixon M. Pitcher of Ogden explained that the intent of his proposed HB121 is to give gun owners a way of temporarily turning over weapons to police, without undue scrutiny. The point of the bill was to get guns out the hands of people who might be tempted to use them to inflict harm.  Referring to the mother of Sandyhook shooter Adam Lanza, Pitcher speculated how a provision like his might have helped in her situation.

“Could she have thought in her mind: is it wise to have my weapons inside the house, when I have a son who has mental illness. This would have somebody who was in that like circumstance the ability to take that weapon in for a safe harbor for a short period of time until the family can get to a point where they can understand how they need to deal with the person who has the emergency.” 

The bill was widely supported during the meeting of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee yesterday. Dee Rowland of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah praised the legislature for acknowledging with this bill the dangers that having a gun in the home represents, though she didn’t go as far as endorsing the legislation.

“First of all we want to congratulate for acknowledging the danger of having a weapon in the home. If you would combine this with universal background checks I think we could take a great leap forward in providing safety for people who have guns in the home and preventing more gun injuries and deaths.”

Kelly Atkinson, Executive Director of the Utah Fraternal Order of Police spoke in favor of the bill, saying it was a measure that could prevent unnecessary violence, while protecting the rights of gun-owners.

“We believe that those weapons ought to be kept away from citizens that would do harm. Those citizens include mentally ill individuals and those that are charged with felonies. We believe that this legislation falls clearly within that guideline, support the legislation and believe that it will create a safe harbor for individuals that don’t know what to do with their guns.”

The bill specifies that police cannot ask the names of people suspected to be a threat by those turning guns in. It also requires law enforcement officials to give guns back to their rightful owners upon request, and to confiscate any illegal firearms it recovers.  

House Bill 121 received unanimous approval and advanced out of the committee with a favorable recommendation.