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Utah Senate chief holsters weapons bill

Put another notch on the belt of gun-rights advocates.

Thursday afternoon, Utah Senate President Lane Beattie announced he won't run his concealed weapons bill this year after all.Even though a Deseret News poll taken before the session showed that nearly 90 percent of citizens want the legally permitted weapons kept out of schools and churches, Beattie said there are too many legal questions and too much misunderstanding for him to proceed this session, which has only nine working days left.

Beattie said a legal opinion by the Legislature's own attorney "raises serious questions" over whether even a homeowner could ban someone who holds a legal concealed weapons permit from bringing a weapon into his home.

That and many more legal questions need to be resolved over the next 12 months, said Beattie. He promised the issue won't go away and he'll work on it the rest of 1998.

"This is a great disappointment, a real frustration," said Utah Education Association lobbyist Susan Kuziak of Beattie's decision. The UEA represents most of the teachers in Utah.

Beattie said he believes that two of the key elements of his bill could have passed, allowing the owners of private property and churches to ban concealed weapons. But the most important third part - allowing public schools to ban concealed weapons - was troublesome, he said. "Without the public education part, I didn't see the point in going forward," said Beattie.

This issue arose 2 1/2 years ago and was elevated when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a formal statement saying guns, permitted or not, don't belong in churches. Gov. Mike Leavitt, both this year and in the 1997 Legislature, asked lawmakers to act on the matter.

But for the second year in a row gun-rights advocates have persuaded legislative leaders not to act. "My board is unanimously against the president's bill," said Rob Bishop, lobbyist for the Utah Shooting Sports Council. Bishop, a former speaker of the Utah House, added: "We don't like it. The first two parts of the bill, guns out of private homes and churches, can already be done through the current trespass laws. We have a real problem with (banning concealed weapons) from public schools. If (Beattie) wants to get illegal guns out of school, great. But don't go after the people who obey the law" - the permit-holders who must go through background checks by law officers before being given the right to carry a concealed handgun. About 15,000 Utahns have concealed weapons permits, officials say.

"Two years of discussion (over banning concealed weapons from schools) for nothing," said Kuziak, who sat through Beattie's press conference and seemed to choke back tears when talking to the Deseret News.

Rep. Robert Killpack, R-Murray, introduced a bill that only talked about owners of private homes and churches being able to keep out all weapons, concealed or not, permitted or not. He has decided not to run his bill, either.

Sen. Robert Steiner, D-Salt Lake, also prepared a bill that would have allowed private businesses, governments, public schools and universities to ban concealed weapons, but he's not running his bill either, in light of Beattie's decision.

Beattie said he made this "difficult" decision not to push his bill after meeting privately Thursday with fellow GOP senators. He added that the concealed weapons matter has never been that important to him and that there haven't been any "serious" incidents in schools over use of guns by legitimate permit-holders. He took up the issue believing he could build compromise. He couldn't, he said.

Beattie and Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who also attended the press conference, both said they believe personally that a permit-holder couldn't carry his gun into a person's private home without the homeowner's permission. But they also both said the recent legal opinion - asked by Waddoups from the legislative general counsel - sounds as if concealed weapons can be taken just about anywhere.

Also left undecided is Leavitt's personnel decision that state employees can't carry any kind of weapon, permitted or not, in any state building or vehicle without permission from a supervisor. There's been talk of lawsuits over that rule, but so far no state employee has sued.