Four of this year's leading candidates for Salt Lake mayor called Saturday for stricter gun control measures following Thursday's fatal shootings inside the LDS Family History Library.
House Minority Leader Dave Jones, D-Salt Lake, even asked GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt to call a special session of the Legislature so those with minor criminal weapons violations and those with histories of mental illness can be restricted in their ability to buy and own firearms.Jones and fellow Democratic mayoral candidates Jim Bradley and Rocky Anderson were interviewed at the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention. Stuart Reid, also a Democrat, didn't attend the convention. He was interviewed later.
Bradley and Anderson also said that they wouldn't keep Salt Lake Police Chief Ruben Ortega if they are elected mayor.
Jones said it is "irresponsible" to single out Ortega for firing so early in the mayor's race, while the chief still must serve to the end of Mayor Deedee Corradini's tenure, which ends next January.
However, in his convention speech, Jones said that crime fighting will be his No. 1 mission if elected mayor and that the current city police department and mayoral administration don't have adequate crime-fighting programs in place.
Reid, a former Salt Lake City councilman who now serves with Ortega in Corradini's cabinet as head of community and economic development, said he would be honored to have Ortega as his police chief and wouldn't replace him. "Ruben has done a wonderful job; the best chief of police we've ever had," he said.
Jones said Leavitt should call a special legislative session immediately. At that session, new laws concerning handgun control could be examined. "It would be the most important and substantive special session we've had" during Leavitt's tenure, Jones said.
In response to a restrictive Salt Lake gun control ordinance, several years ago legislators passed a law stating that only the Legislature could control gun purchases and ownership in Utah.
This past session, legislators passed a law that says only they can issue gun regulation rules for state agencies, an effort to annul restrictive measures imposed by Leavitt himself on state employees and buildings. That same law allows Olympic venues, churches and private homes to be weapon-free zones. But GOP legislators wouldn't allow public school administrators to ban all guns from school property -- a measure favored by Democrats that was sponsored by Jones.
Anderson, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2nd Congressional District in 1996, was toughest on Ortega.
"His administration has been a disaster for rank-and-file police morale," Anderson, an attorney, said. Ortega has failed to "take proactive actions to reduce violent crime in the city." The chief has acted like a dictator, not a problem-solver, Anderson said.
He added that something must be done to screen people who've been diagnosed "with dangerous mental illnesses" to keep them from getting handguns. The doctor-patient privilege can be set aside in certain cases -- like when patients are committing child abuse -- and the same requirements should be placed on mentally ill patients who've been so diagnosed, Anderson told the Deseret News.
Reid holds similar beliefs.
"We shouldn't be selling guns to people with mental illnesses; that's clear," Reid said. The state does background checks on gun buyers, which includes their criminal history. Psychotic people should have their mental illness histories in that database as well, Reid added.
Such medical histories wouldn't be available to police in routine checks on citizens, only for gun purchase checks and should be tightly controlled, Reid said. "We've had several incidents of (mentally ill) people killing citizens, and it can't go on."
Jones said state officials who review gun-purchase applications should somehow have the ability to review any "mental illness" histories as well.
"What we really have to do is make sure that people who plea bargain down very serious (gun violation) felony charges to misdemeanors shouldn't be able" to buy guns without further review.
Jones said that both the woman involved in the recent Triad Center shooting and the man who shot five people -- two fatally -- on Thursday both had concealed weapons violations reduced to misdemeanors. (The gunman was shot and killed by police responding to the library incident.) Both suspects had medical histories of mental illnesses.
If state law had required that background checks pick up the original felony weapons charges, those two mentally troubled people couldn't have purchased handguns so easily, said Jones.
"We have to improve the standards for those who can carry weapons," said Bradley, a former Salt Lake County commissioner who lost the 1996 governor's race to Leavitt. "We're much too lenient. Those who have mental troubles, in every case they shouldn't be able to get a gun to do harm to themselves or others."
Bradley said he probably wouldn't keep Ortega as chief.
"I'd take a hard look at that, but probably not," he said. "It appears the (rank-and-file) officers have lost faith" in Ortega's leadership, Bradley said. "Certainly the crime numbers aren't working; crime is on the rise in the city."