Under the watchful eye of three armed police officers, Mayor Rocky Anderson's inaugural "freedom forum" — this one on gun violence — kicked off at the downtown City Library Wednesday.

The forum began with speeches from a panel of experts, although the pro-gun members of the crowd complained Anderson had stacked the panel with anti-gun advocates.

Salt Lake City's mayor initiated the discussion by offering his six-point plan to help curb gun violence. The mayor advocates laws that would like to force every gun owner to lock up his or her guns. If a child or a burglar steals an unlocked gun out of a home, he believes the homeowner should be held responsible for whatever crime is committed with the stolen gun.

"Gun owners whose unlocked weapons fall into the hands of children or burglars must be held legally responsible," Anderson said.

Other parts of the mayor's plan include enhancing penalties for minors who possess guns or for guardians who allow their children to possess guns; allowing municipal governments to pass their own guns laws; renewing the federal assault weapons ban; keeping better track of gun violence statistics and prohibiting guns in schools and churches.

The freedom forum panel was a mix of gun violence victims (including Melissa Owens, whose brother was killed by a gun at age 12, and Bill Quick, who took down a mentally ill shooter on a rampage at the Triad Center in 1999) and pro- and anti-gun lobbyists Janalee Tobias, from Women Against Gun Control, and Marla Kennedy, from Utah's Gun Violence Prevention Center. Defense attorney Clayton Simms, Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse and assistant U.S. Attorney John Huber rounded out the panel.

While city prosecutor Sim Gill said he had hoped the discussion would bring attention to the need for tighter and more uniform penalties for gun crimes, the night largely deteriorated into a shouting match between 2nd Amendment advocates and those with more liberal leanings on gun control.

Gun advocates argued teaching gun safety in school — not stricter penalties — would help prevent gun violence among children. However, Kennedy, citing a Duke University study of children 4 to 8, said children aren't sophisticated enough to comprehend gun safety so education should be forgone.

Tobias and some members of the crowd said Kennedy's logic was ignorant. If children are too stupid to learn, why teach them anything, they asked. Moreover, why not teach older kids, after age 8 about using guns safely?

"That's offensive," Tobias said. "I'm tired of having to fight the people who won't allow gun safety to be taught in schools."

In all, about 50 people attended the forum. It didn't appear, however, that any of the state's 104 legislators, who were all invited, or any City Council members attended.

Anderson will host six more freedom forums in the coming eight months, dealing with issues including liquor laws, gay adoption, health care access, late-night dancing, clean air and living wages. Anderson first identified seven freedoms he would promote in July, saying state and city lawmakers weren't doing enough to address the issues.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com