Utah State Gun Law Changes
The Utah Legislature has adjourned from its 2019 Legislative session. Before the final gavel dropped, the Legislature passed House Bill 114 and, today, the bill was sent to the desk of Governor Gary Herbert for his consideration. This important self-defense legislation clarifies existing Utah law that there is no duty to retreat when an individual is justified in responding to an aggressor with force and ensures that crime victims will not be victimized a second time by the criminal justice system. With the end of session, multiple gun control bills were defeated having not passed by the final deadline. Those bills include: House Bill 87 relates to requirements for the “safe storage” of firearms and would make gun owners criminally liable if a minor or prohibited person gains access to an unsecured firearm. Under House Bill 87, a gun owner could be prosecuted if they leave their firearm in a location that a minor is able to gain access to it, even if they have permission to do so. Further, this legislation requires that dealers provide notice of this proposed “safe storage” provision or face penalties.
House Bill 190 sought to hold law-abiding gun owners liable for any felonious criminal action taken by others with their firearms. This legislation would have placed the blame on law-abiding gun owners for the potential criminal actions of others. House Bill 209 sought to authorize the seizure of firearms and ammunition from individuals without due process. Unchallenged statements made by a petitioner before a judge, alleging that someone is a danger to themselves or others in an ex parte proceeding — prior to any formal court hearing at which the respondent can be represented by counsel and present counter evidence — would be sufficient for law enforcement to enter that person’s home and confiscate their private property. House Bill 418, so-called “universal” background check legislation, sought to criminalize almost all private firearm transfers between law-abiding individuals. Gun owners would have been forced to pay fees and obtain government approval before selling or lending firearms to friends, neighbours, co-workers, fellow hunters, competitive shooters or gun club members.
This proposal would have had no impact on crime and is unenforceable without gun registration. Two Utah gun bills including ‘Lauren’s Law’ stall, while 2 others advance to Salt Lake City. Days after the one-year anniversary of the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, Utah lawmakers had a busy morning Wednesday deciding what gun legislation would get a chance at a vote on the House floor. While two bills survived and received an endorsement from a House committee, two others sponsored by Democrats stalled, including “Lauren’s Law,” a bill inspired by the murder of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, and HB87, a bill that would have criminalized unsafe storage of firearms that result in injury or death. Along with voting to table HB87, the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted to hold “Lauren’s Law,” HB190, which would create liability for people who lend their firearms to someone who later uses it to commit a felony.
The sponsor of “Lauren’s Law,” Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, drafted the bill after he “felt I had to do something” after the October death of McCluskey, a communications major and track athlete who was shot to death by a parolee she had recently stopped dating after she learned he was a sex offender who had given her a fake name, police said. Melvin Rowland, 37, killed McCluskey on campus before taking his own life as police closed in. University of Utah police said he borrowed the gun from a friend, saying he wanted to take his girlfriend target shooting. “This bill does nothing to infringe on a person’s right to own a gun,” Stoddard said. “What it does is encourage responsible gun ownership.”McCluskey’s family did not attend Wednesday’s committee meeting. The sponsor for HB87, Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, said she’s pushing the legislation after she, as a teacher, has watched the “school climate shift” from an environment that encourages learning and “community,” to a place focused on “fear, defense” and “armed teachers.” “I wanted to think about something that would add another layer to asking and pleading for safe (gun) storage to give a little more assurance to students and teachers in schools that more guns would actually be secure,” Weight said. “A lot of people would benefit from that little legal nudge.”
But both bills stalled after representatives from the National Rifle Association and the Utah Shooters Sports Council spoke in opposition. Brian Judy, a lobbyist for the NRA, called proposed legislation inspired by McCluskey’s death “clearly the proverbial slippery slope setting the stage” for anti-gun policies and would “impose liability on an owner of a firearm that is criminally misused, even if the owner had no knowledge, no intent, no fault, no negligence or no culpability in the crime.” “This is a classic anti-gun tactic of shifting responsibly from the criminal to the law-abiding firearm owner,” Judy said. “HB190 takes Utah one step down the path away from individual accountability and personal responsibility. This bill will set up firearm owners to be targets of litigation in an already overly litigious society.”Judy also opposed Weight’s bill, saying it would also unfairly “criminalize” gun owners rather than focusing efforts on suicide awareness. “That’s where the focus should be, not on gun control,” he said. It’s unclear whether the bills will be given another shot at advancing to the full House, though Stoddard said after the vote that he’s hopeful he’ll be able to tweak the bill to address concerns. “I’m optimistic that it wasn’t killed,” Stoddard told reporters after the committee vote. “I do think there is something we can agree on, and I look forward to working on it and bringing it back.” Meanwhile, two gun-related bills sponsored by Republicans and supported by gun advocates received unanimous endorsements from the House committee and now advance to the House floor for consideration. They included HB17, a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, that encourages education on safe firearm handling and storage and HB152, a bill sponsored by Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, that clarifies Utah’s law that allows spouses, blood relatives and other people who live with a gun owner to voluntarily surrender a firearm to law enforcement if the cohabitant believes the owner is at risk of harming others or himself or herself. Eliason said his bill focused “exclusively on an educational approach” to the safe storage of guns and imposes no restrictions. It also appropriates a one-time $500,000 and an ongoing $100,000 for gun safety programs and to finance a coupon program to help finance Utahans’ purchases of biometric gun safes.
Eliason told a story of how he recently visited with a neighbor who showed him his new 9 mm handgun. Eliason told of how he “shared some statistics” with his neighbor about guns and suicide, and “he looked at me and says, ‘I should probably have this locked up.'””I believe when people hear these messages, responsible gun owners … will take the steps to secure their firearms,” Eliason said. Maloy’s bill also received easy support from the House committee. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry and a Utah Highway Patrol trooper, lauded the bill, saying he saw the current law in action “just this weekend” after he said someone surrendered a firearm to law enforcement.”This actually works,” he said. Before lawmakers unanimously voted to endorse the bills from Eliason and Maloy, gun owner advocates expressed their support. Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, credited the bills for acting as “carrots” rather than “sticks” to encourage gun safety. Democratic state lawmakers are already having gun control bills drafted for the 2019 Legislature, including a prohibition on firearms being openly carried around schools. House Minority Whip Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake, the sponsor of that proposal, said he was responding to “regular reports” in the media about school lockdowns being ordered after someone is spotted openly carrying a gun nearby. “Our children’s education shouldn’t have to routinely be disrupted because someone wants to brandish a weapon outside a school,” said Briscoe, a long-time high school teacher. Seeing “gun enthusiasts who every so often in Utah strap on an automatic rifle, an assault rifle, a long-barrelled firearm” and head to public places is “scary and concerning to people,” he said. Banning such displays around schools, Briscoe said, would be “a sign of respect to the institution of public education and to the people who work there and the parents who send their children there.” He said “the only people who should be carrying open weapons around a school is law enforcement.”
But Briscoe stressed he’s not trying to stop guns from being openly carried everywhere, just within an as-yet unspecified area around the state’s elementary, junior high and high schools. The penalty for violating such a restriction is also yet to be determined, he said. “This is the fight I want to have right now,” Briscoe said, acknowledging it will be a tough sell in the Republican-dominated Legislature. Still, he said, the recent deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is focusing more attention on gun issues. “Is there an interest? You bet there’s an interest,” Briscoe said, noting state lawmakers recently received a survey about their stands on gun control from West High School students. But gun rights lobbyist Clark Aposhian, who represents the Utah Shooting Sports Council, questioned the need to make carrying a weapon openly around schools “a criminal act” because of what he called some isolated incidents.”I don’t think it’s been a pattern,” Aposhian said. “I’m not saying carrying openly around a school is a good idea. I just don’t see it’s been a problem.” Briscoe’s proposed bill is one of six outlined in a news release by the Utah House Democratic Caucus as showing the minority party in the Legislature is “serious about protecting Utahans’ from gun violence.” Their requests to have legislation drafted were made Tuesday, the first day lawmakers could open bill files for the next legislative session set to start in late January 2019. Some of the proposals were discussed at a student rally for gun reform held at the state Capitol last month on the 19th anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Columbine, Colorado. House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake, wants to make background checks required for all firearm sales in the state by closing loopholes, including for gun shows and online transactions by unlicensed dealers.”This is common-sense legislation,” King said. He said polls show strong support for such checks. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, has three proposals being drafted, including a ban in Utah on so-called “bump stocks,” attachments that allow a semiautomatic rifle to fire nearly as quickly as a machine gun. Arent also is looking at a bill offering options for the safe disposal of firearms and a resolution calling for Congress to repeal a 1996 action that has stalled federal research into the effects of gun violence.
Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, is having a bill drafted to require that all firearms be stored in a safe, or with a locking device in place, when not in use. She said most responsible gun owners already keep their weapons safely secured. “Having some reasonable safety measures isn’t too much to ask,” Weight said. “We want to encourage a safe and thoughtful culture around guns and ownership.” Aposhian wasn’t enthusiastic about the chances of any of the Democrats’ bills getting very far in the upcoming legislative session because lawmakers have “seen and heard of these ideas before.” He said that while he would want to review all the bills once they’re drafted, he’s generally not in favour of “any legislation that’s based on something that’s not an actual problem but an emotional response to something that is otherwise legal.” Even requiring the safe storage of weapons, Aposhian said, poses an issue. He could support such legislation only if it mandated the same treatment for “all dangerous things,” including bleach and other household chemicals. Otherwise, he said, there is an “overemphasis” on the dangers posed by guns. “I think it’s actually worse than doing nothing at all,” Aposhian said. “What I mean by that is it creates a false sense of security.”
Panel approves message that Utah doesn’t need new gun laws
A panel of lawmakers signed off Tuesday on a declaration that Utah doesn’t need new gun-control measures like a so-called red flag law. The vote came after a number of people spoke for and against the resolution from Republican Rep. Cory Maloy, a pro-gun rights lawmaker who said the state should enforce its existing laws. He said “red-flag” laws, which temporarily take guns from people acting dangerously, infringe on constitutional rights before people have done anything wrong. His proposal now goes to the full House. “We don’t want to turn law-abiding citizens into criminals,” said Maloy. His resolution was supported by groups like the National Rifle Association while others like the student-led March for Our Lives spoke against it. It wouldn’t block gun-control bills, but is a signal that they could face an uphill battle in the conservative, gun-friendly state. Eight states passed “red flag” legislation last year after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting that killed 17 people. Five states already had similar laws. Utah lawmakers rejected a version last year that would have allowed a family member or roommate to ask a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who could harm themselves or others.
Republican Rep. Steve Handy is proposing it again this year after a safe-schools commission recommended it. “There is a gap in the law,” he told The Associated Press, calling his bill a commonsense measure that can be balanced with Second Amendment rights. It could be used to prevent not only mass shootings, but also to keep guns from people who are suicidal, he said. A supporter of gun control legislation, Wendy Parmley of Orem, said such a law may have made a difference in 1975 when her mother killed herself with a hunting rifle. “She had planned her death. She had told my dad how she was going to do it,” she said. If there had been a law keeping her from firearms or mandating safe storage of guns, the outcome for her mother may have been different, she said. Michael Slayton of Cedar City said he was also affected by gun violence growing up in California, but he’s come to a different conclusion: more laws don’t necessarily prevent it. “When I moved here, I learned I can legally have a firearm without any reason other than to protect my family,” he said. Anyone who attempts to buy a firearm at a gun show held in Salt Lake County’s Mountain America Expo Centre will be required to undergo a federal background check starting next month. Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson says her effort to close what’s commonly known as the gun show “loophole” is a common-sense response to concerns about gun violence throughout the country. Before this switch, sales between two private parties didn’t require a background check. “I support the rights of lawful gun owners, but the risk of a private transaction resulting in the sale of a firearm to someone with a violent criminal record or history of domestic abuse is a risk we cannot accept in Salt Lake County,” she said at a news conference announcing the policy change Monday.
“We can all agree that responsible gun ownership should include responsible buying and selling as well.” The new rule applies to all county-owned facilities, but gun shows are only regularly held at the expo centre in Sandy. Wilson’s pronouncement was greeted with frustration by Utah gun lobbyist Clark Aposhian, who attended the mayor’s news conference and afterward raised questions not only about the mayor’s measure but also about whether she has the legal ability to implement such restrictions. “The state Legislatures, not individual counties or municipalities, are able to set gun laws,” said Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council. “That’s the way it is in the vast majority of the United States. Forty-two states have pre-emption on gun laws so that as you pass from one city or county to another, you don’t have a patchwork” of rules. He and another gun rights advocate, Jeremy Roberts, have contacted the Utah attorney general’s office, state legislators and the state auditor to look into whether the county is violating the law. Utah code prohibits cities and counties from imposing any regulations on the ownership, possession, purchase, transfer or transport of a gun. And, in 2006, the state Supreme Court used that law to strike down an attempt by the University of Utah to ban guns on campus. Wilson said Monday that the policy change is within the purview of the county, which “as the owner and operator of facilities, sets contracts and determines which shows we are to host within the walls of our facility,” and the county’s legal counsel has signed off on the measure. “If I contacted all members of the Legislature to ask their opinion on things, I probably wouldn’t do a lot,” she said when asked if she was worried about legislative pre-emption. SMG, the county contractor that runs the expo centre and two other facilities, has previously imposed without incident other restrictions on gun shows, including prohibitions on magazines inside firearms and on patrons loading and unloading firearms inside the venue, according to the mayor’s office.
Utah’s rate of gun sales has grown more quickly than any other state during the past decade a time when mass shootings have created hot debate over firearms control and ownership nationally. Utah’s rate of gun sales per adult grew by 80.4% between 2009 and 2018.
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