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Former Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff says proposed Spring City gun resolution legal

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff poses for a photo at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff poses for a photo at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SPRING CITY, Sanpete County — Elected leaders in this remote town are within their legal powers to recommend that every household own and maintain a gun, according to former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Because the Spring City Council is stopping short of a law requiring gun ownership, its proposed resolution likely would not run afoul with state law, Shurtleff told KSL's Doug Wright on Tuesday.

"Only the state Legislature can make laws or rules pertaining to firearms," he said.

Shurtleff compared the Spring City resolution to an ordinance that passed in 2000 in Virgin, Washington County. Virgin city leaders enacted legislation requiring ownership of guns, though they claimed the ordinance would not be enforced.

Virgin's ordinance was one of the first controversies Shurtleff faced after being elected attorney general, he said, and his opposition on legal grounds prompted some in the community to accuse him of being "anti-gun" and a RINO — political slang for "Republican in name only."

"They took a look at it and obviously decided that they needed to obey state law," Shurtleff said of Virgin's leadership.

Last week, the Spring City Council agreed to pursue a resolution that would encourage each of the city's roughly 325 households to own a gun and participate in gun training.

Councilman Neil Sorensen proposed the measure, which initially called for requiring gun ownership but was then walked back to a recommendation after discussion with his colleagues and a concern over big-government intrusion.

Sorensen said he was motivated by the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, as well as a concern that the city of just under 1,000 be able to defend itself in the absence of a full-time police force.

He also said that most households in Spring City already own a gun, and the resolution would be a largely symbolic gesture affirming the community's support for Second Amendment rights.

Shurtleff said he was sympathetic to Spring City's concerns for safety, and based on what he's heard of the council's planned resolution, it would most likely not face legal challenges.

"There are dangers down there," he said. "This is not big-city violence, but things happen. I understand people's concerns. I'm a gun owner, and people ought to have a right to protect their property, but you can't require it."