Bill to lower penalty for carrying weapons on mass transit advances

Wednesday , February 25, 2015 - 12:13 PM

SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill that would reduce the penalty for carrying a firearm or weapon on public transit from a felony to a misdemeanor cleared a House committee Wednesday in an 8-2 vote.

Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, is the sponsor of HB350, which he said addresses a very narrow provision in the statute.

“It only applies if a person does not have a concealed permit, if they are peacefully possessing a concealed weapon on a bus, train or in the vicinity of a bus station or bus stop,” Thurston told members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. 

Under ordinary circumstances, such action would be a misdemeanor, but the mass-transit aspect increased it to a felony, and Thurston’s bill would remove that felony enhancement.

Felony convictions have far-reaching impact on a person’s life, Thurston added, “so it’s a pretty big penalty for someone who is possibly not even doing this knowingly.”

For example, carrying a baseball bat in a gym bag could be counted as a felony on the bus, he said.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who formerly served with the Utah Gun Violence Prevention Center, voiced concerns about the point of Thurston’s bill.

“Until I had my weapons permit, I rode the train to work for almost two years,” Thurston said. “On some occasions I would bring things in my backpack which could be considered weapons . . . on the train it would automatically be a felony. To have that sort of behavior that otherwise law-abiding citizens could even be charged with a felony, I think goes too far.”

Clark Aposhian, who chairs Utah Shooting Sports Council, called the legislation reasonable.

Josh Daniels of Utah’s Libertas Institute also voiced support, speaking on behalf of low-income residents who he said are seven times more likely to use public transit than the rest of the population.

“By extension, that means that our fellow Utahns with lower incomes -- the working poor, the lower middle class -- are going to fall into a doughnut hole with sentencing enhancements,” Daniels said.

University of Utah student Chris Jenkins said that he personally has a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

“However, in discussing this issue . . . with several of my fellow classmates, I found that several of them frequently carry knives and multi-tools just out of convenience for when they’ll be needed,” Jenkins said, urging committee members to support HB350 so “that way, they would not end up with a felony on their record.”

Romero was joined by Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Murray, in voting against the bill. HB350 now moves on to the House for consideration.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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