A man who openly displayed an AR-15 last week while shopping at JC Penny in Riverdale could potentially have been charged with disorderly conduct, under provisions of a bill the Utah Legislature will consider this year.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, is sponsoring HB268, which would give local police departments the ability to charge any person who displays a dangerous weapon in a public place with disorderly conduct if those circumstances "would cause a reasonable person to fear for the safety of any person."
"Had he caused calls to 911, he could have been charged," Ray said of how his bill would have applied to the incident in Riverdale, after the picture of a man with the rifle strapped to his back went viral.
Ray said the measure will clarify a gray area for law enforcement, by outlining the conditions necessary to charge someone openly carrying a gun with disorderly conduct. The bill also gives law enforcement the ability to approach someone openly carrying a firearm and conduct what has been dubbed an "attitude check."
The local lawmaker's effort to pass a similar measure died last year, after failing to gain the support of law enforcement groups. With the new clarification, Ray said the bill now has the support of the police chiefs association, the sheriffs association and a prosecutors organization.
The gunman was identified as 22-year-old Joseph Kelley, who said he wanted to demonstrate that weapons aren't dangerous when handled by law-abiding citizens. It was reported that Kelley said he notified police in advance that he would be carrying the weapon; however, local police said they had no record of such notification.
Even with notification, Ray thinks Kelley's actions were ill-advised.
"It was very stupid. The person he put in danger mostly was himself. He's lucky someone didn't draw down on him," Ray said.
Ray said people support gun rights, but they also support doing so reasonably.
Ray said: "This bill really solidifies that right. It protects you unless you starting flashing your gun and scaring people."