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In the Old West, cowboys wanting a drink at the local saloon usually had to check their guns at the door. It was a recognition that guns and alcohol don't mix.

But in the New West - at least in Utah - carrying a concealed firearm into a saloon remains perfectly legal, and it will likely remain so. A House committee voted 7-2 to kill a bill that would have banned concealed weapons in taverns and private clubs - a harbinger, of sorts, for bills to be debated next week that would restrict where concealed weapons can be carried."People go to taverns to drink, and those who drink have lowered inhibitions," said Rep. Jack Arrington, D-Ogden and sponsor of HB47. And those with lowered inhibitions have poorer judgment.

But gun-rights advocates successfully argued there are already enough laws on the books to prevent people from brandishing weapons and carrying weapons while intoxicated.

"If you want to pass a bill that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, this is it," said Rob Bishop, lobbyist for the Utah Shooting Sports Council. "But there is not a past pattern of problems. If someone is showing a gun in a bar, that is brandishment, and go get them. If they are drunk and carrying a weapon, go get them."

The influence of the pro-gun lobby on the conservative Legislature was evident throughout Friday's hearing, where four weapons bills were debated. Lawmakers approved a ban on weapons in the secure areas of airports, and they approved a process whereby the Department of Public Safety can revoke or suspend concealed weapons permits.

But those bills are minor compared to legislation that will be debated next week. Utahns clearly want something done about concealed weapons going into churches, schools, government buildings, parks and private businesses that cater to the public, according to a recent Deseret News/KSL poll.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found in a December survey that 79 percent of Utahns strongly or somewhat favor letting public schools and university officials ban concealed weapons from their facilities; 76 percent favor letting churches ban concealed guns; 71 percent favor local governments having the power to ban guns from government-owned property; and 63 percent said local businesses owners, like grocery store managers, should be allowed to ban guns on their premises.

Despite the flurry of debate Friday, the varsity debate actually begins next Thursday when two much-anticipated bills - one by Sen. Robert Steiner, D-Salt Lake, and the other by Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville - are finally heard in committee.

Steiner's is the most restrictive of the two. It would ban concealed weapons in churches, hospitals, schools and university classrooms, and it would allow private business owners, government bodies and employers to ban concealed weapons on their property.

Waddoups' bill would ban concealed weapons in schools but not school parking lots. Nor would it ban weapons from university settings. It would allow churches to ban the weapons, as well as private property owners if their property was not accessible to the public.

But any business or government building that is "generally accessible to the public" could not ban the concealed weapons, Waddoups said.

Steiner's bill gives the decision to ban weapons to private-property owners. And he would treat government buildings the same as private property in that regard. "The city council or the mayor would have the right to ban weapons in their government buildings," he said.

"His (Waddoups') bill is a real limitation on private property rights," Steiner added. "A basic part of owning your own property is that you are allowed to make decisions about who you allow onto that property."

House Minority Whip Steve Barth has nicknamed his effort the "Bresnahan bill." That's because it addresses the exact problem former Rep. David Bresnahan found himself in last summer. (Bresnahan was barely defeated in his re-election effort to his West Jordan district).

Bresnahan, a talk-radio host and insurance agent, fired a handgun for which he had a concealed weapons permit while chasing two men fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run automobile accident. He fired his gun once into a canal bank. He awaits trial on a misdemeanor charge of discharging a weapon within city limits. But there is no process whereby the state could pull Bresnahan's permit for such an action.

Barth's bill, which passed unanimously, would require a permit holder to "promptly" inform a citizen firearm's commission of any incident in which the holder fired or even showed his weapon in public "in defense of himself or defense of another." The commission would then review the incident and could suspend or revoke the holder's permit after a hearing.

"Any criminal action against the holder for firing his weapon in city limits would go forward separate of this state action," said Barth.



Deseret News/KSL poll

Legislators will probably deal with the issue of legally permitted concealed weapons. Do you favor or oppose the following institutions being able to BAN concealed weapons from their facilities:


Strongly favor 69%

Somewhat favor 7%

Somewhat oppose 5%

Strongly oppose 16%

Don't know 3%

Public schools and universities

Strongly favor 73%

Somewhat favor 6%

Somewhat oppose 3%

Strongly oppose 16%

Don't know 2%

Private businesses that cater to the public, like retail stores, etc.

Strongly favor 47%

Somewhat favor 16%

Somewhat oppose 13%

Strongly oppose 19%

Don't know 6%

Local government offices and facilities

Strongly favor 56%

Somewhat favor 15%

Somewhat oppose 9%

Strongly oppose 16%

Don't know 4%

This poll of 604 Utah residents was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates Dec. 10-12, 1996. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. Copyright 1997 Deseret News.