Utah lawmakers want to expand gun rights

Feb 10 2013 - 12:42pm

SALT LAKE CITY  -- While some lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are calling for increased gun control, Utah legislators are charging ahead in the opposite direction with measures seeking to expand gun rights.

Some of this year's proposals are part of a perennial push to keep Utah firearm-friendly, but other pieces of legislation are a response to a perceived threat against the Second Amendment from the White House.

None of the gun bills has been scheduled for a hearing yet, but Utah House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart said lawmakers will consider all of them at the same time. They haven't settled on a date yet, but it could come as early as this week, as legislators have just passed a deadline to request new bills.

One bill awaiting a hearing in the House would get rid of the requirement for people carrying a concealed weapon to have a permit.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, would allow anyone 21 or over to carry a hidden gun as long as the person hasn't been convicted of a crime that bars a person from legally owning a firearm.

Utah permit holders currently must demonstrate that they know how to handle a gun, by completing a training course or providing evidence of military service, for example. Most other states follow suit, issuing a concealed carry permit to applicants who meet requirements such as background checks and training requirements.

If Mathis' bill becomes law, Utah would join four other states - Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Vermont- that don't require a permit for concealed carry.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, said she wasn't familiar with the details in Mathis' proposal but opposes getting rid of concealed carry permits. She said lawmakers should carefully consider public safety and ensure that someone's personal gun rights do not trump the safety of the community.

Mathis did not return messages seeking comment on his bill.

Another gun bill comes from Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who has resurrected a proposal he tried to get passed last year.

The legislation would bar local law enforcement from citing someone for disorderly conduct for displaying a gun, as long as that person isn't doing anything else that's threatening.

Utah law already allows firearms to be carried openly in many public places, but this would make that very clear, Ray said.

The Clearfield Republican said some law-abiding citizens have been harassed for exercising their right to bear arms.

Questions have already been raised about another bill's ability to hold up in court.

Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, has introduced a bill that declares Utah alone is able to regulate firearms in the state, and if any federal officer attempts to take guns from Utah residents, that officer can be arrested by local law enforcement.

Lawmakers in at least 16 other states, mostly in the South and West, have introduced similar legislation in response to President Barack Obama's call for increased gun control after recent mass shootings, including the December attack that killed 26 people in a Newton, Conn., school.

In January, Obama signed executive orders addressing mental health issues and providing authorities more training, among other provisions. Other proposals, which would need to be passed by Congress, call for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The plan has attracted strong criticism from gun rights supporters.

State lawmakers say their legislation, which declares any federal law limiting gun rights unenforceable, is necessary to push back against federal overreach and defend the U.S. Constitution. But such measures, which make it a state crime to enforce federal law, have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Utah, legislative attorneys that review bills for constitutionality pointed that out, noting that Greene's bill would very likely be held unconstitutional.

Greene disagrees with that review and thinks his bill could still pass.

"The message was sent that the federal government was going to do this despite the states and without any ... input from the states," he told The Deseret News. "So this is how we respond as a state if we're not going to be invited to the table, if we're not going to have our jurisdiction respected."

Messages left with Greene by The Associated Press were not returned Friday.

Clark Aposhian, a firearms instructor and chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said that more than anything, the bill is designed to send a message that Utah is committed to the right to keep and bear arms.

While that commitment is always strong, Aposhian said, it is gaining traction among gun owners who are opposed Obama's proposals and feel "there's a constant drumbeat of attack on the Second Amendment."

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Associated Press writer Annie Knox contributed to this report.

 

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