Bill allows name removal from restricted gun purchase list

Posted at 5:49 PM, Feb 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-27 00:30:39-05

SALT LAKE CITY - A Utah lawmaker is pushing for legislation that would allow someone who once suffered from a mental illness to own a firearm.

Federal law prohibits the sale of guns to people who suffer from mental illness and one Utah lawmaker says that's unfair. Opponents say the bill comes at a bad time.

Senate Bill 80, sponsored by Daniel Thatcher, R-Salt Lake and Tooele Counties, would allow people who had been committed to a mental hospital by the state in the past but get a clean bill of health to remove their name from the national restricted list and be allowed to purchase a gun.

"I think there are some people who are going to want to stigmatize those with mental health no matter what and that frankly is disappointing," Thatcher said. "There are people that sometimes have trouble and that doesn't mean they're ruined for the rest of their life."

Dr. B. Todd Thatcher, a forensic psychiatrist with Valley Mental Health, says that the legislation addresses the issue productively; there are people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for depression or non-violent behavior but are perfectly capable of getting better.

"The last thing I want to see happen is a blanket decision made with people who have a mental illness. You just say all to of them if you've been mentally committed  you can never have access to a firearm again legally," Dr. Thatcher said.

Sen. Patricia W. Jones, D-Salt Lake County, is the sole senator who voted against the bill. She says she is uncomfortable with the threshold.

"They would have to have a mental health evaluation by either a psychologist or a psychiatrist and I am not comfortable thinking that that evaluation...I don't know how extensive that evaluation is," Jones said.

But Daniel Thatcher says the threshold and the bar for burden of proof is high.

"Not only do you have to have to get a clean bill of health from a psychiatrist but you have to petition the court having jurisdiction okay. And we're not talking justice courts, we're talking an actual district court judge or appellate you have to go in and prove with clear and compelling evidence which is a high threshold," Daniel Thatcher said.

Jones says that in light of the recent Newtown shooting, right now is a bad time to introduce this bill.

The bill passed out of committee with a 3-1 vote.