First hint of firearms debate surfaces in rewritten bill

Feb 8 2013 - 1:01am

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The first hint of a public debate on the Capitol over firearms has surfaced.

A bill that stalled in the Senate because of concerns about the potential impact on target shooters on public lands will move forward for further consideration after compromise language was crafted, ensuring there is no infringement on Second Amendment rights.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, held a news conference Thursday in company with Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, and Dick Buehler, Utah state forester, to discuss changes made to SB 120. The bill would define the authority of the state forester to restrict target shooting in areas where hazardous fire conditions exist.

The bill was initially described as a measure clarifying the state forester's rights to impose restrictions on public lands in hazardous conditions. When concerns were raised on social media last week, the bill was circled -- or essentially stalled. An amendment to the bill now ensures any action taken by the state forester to potentially close public lands to target shooting will be reviewed every 14 days in conjunction with a duly elected county sheriff in the area.

"The gun community was justifiably concerned about any infringement on their rights. I didn't want to cause any undue restriction on that right," Dayton said.

She stressed that the bill does not affect a person's right to carry a concealed firearm.

Oda insists the bill is more about fighting fires than limiting target shooting. Still he did not run away from the issue of the right to bear arms.

"There's a difference between the ability to own and the right to have and possess a gun. We're not restricting them from taking them anywhere," Oda said of SB 120.

Oda is the House sponsor of the measure.

"It's a constitutional issue. I think the positions we've taken in Utah on self-defense rights have shown why it's necessary," Oda said.

Buehler used the news conference to review the impact of a bad fire season in the state. He said there were 1,528 separate fires last year, and half of them were caused by humans. Thirty-three of those fires were linked to target shooting.

Firearms issues are expected to generate significant interest on the Hill this session. House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said the firearms issues will be heard in committee together to give context to their potential impact on existing laws.

One of those firearms-related bills is legislation sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, HB 268, dealing with the right of police to charge disorderly conduct to a person brandishing a weapon in a way viewed as a threat to the public.

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