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Governor: Lawmakers took 'a little bit of my advice' on gun bills

A person walks near the rotunda during the final day of legislature at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 14, 2013.
A person walks near the rotunda during the final day of legislature at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 14, 2013.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that lawmakers paid at least some attention to his advice on gun legislation this session, but he has not ruled out vetoing a controversial bill allowing concealed weapons to be carried without a permit.

"It's premature to say whether I would sign it or veto it," the governor told the Deseret News, adding he still believes "we ought to be methodical and thoughtful and calm in our approach with gun laws. Again, everybody gets very emotional about it."

Herbert, who has said new gun laws aren't needed and had admonished lawmakers not to send him any "extreme measures that politicize or polarize the debate," noted on the final night of the session "they may have taken a little bit of my advice."

HB76, the so-called "constitutional carry" bill, was amended so a gun concealed without a permit could not have a round in the chamber, which is considered unloaded under Utah law.

"We didn't like the fact, in HB76, that they had a bullet in the chamber. That was a thing that they changed and modified, which is a significant improvement to the bill," Herbert said. "We would just as soon have good legislation come out that we don't have to veto."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim Mathis, R-Vernal, said all he wanted to do was help clarify the law for Utahns who already can openly carry a weapon but need a permit to put a jacket on over their holster.

The bill has been criticized as potentially increasing gun violence because Utahns who want to carry a concealed weapon will be able to skip the class and background check required to obtain a permit. But Mathis said he doesn't believe many will.

"It's not going to change much," he said of the bill.

Over the next 20 days, the governor said he and his staff will scrutinize HB76, along with other legislation passed this session. Herbert did suggest he's not likely to let the bill go into law without his signature, his third option for dealing with legislation.

"I would prefer to take a stand, even if it's unpopular one way or the other," he said.

Gun-rights lobbyist Clark Aposhian of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said the group is urging members to let the governor know they support the bill, which passed by veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.

And even if those two-thirds majorities didn't hold in a veto override session, Aposhian said lawmakers would likely just bring the bill back next session.

"I think they would definitely run it again just to show the governor they could," he said.

The governor's office is already receiving letters urging he veto HB76 from anti-gun violence groups, as well as Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker and Bishop John Wester, Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake City.

Becker said HB76 "presents a danger to public safety and removes an important safeguard." Bishop Wester called the bill "an ill-advised and unnecessary policy that promotes a culture of violence."

Former Ogden resident Alyssa Parker, the mother of Emilie Parker, one the victims of December's deadly school shooting in Connecticut, also contacted Herbert to request that he veto the bill on behalf of her family, including a sister who still lives in Utah.

The deaths of 26 people, including 20 young children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., helped spark a national debate on gun control. President Barack Obama has called for new restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition.

The other high-profile gun bill this session, HB114, was intended to stop federal gun laws from being enforced in Utah. It, too, was revised numerous times including to no longer make federal agents subject to felony prosecution for upholding the nation's gun laws.

Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, held out hope until the end of the session that the Senate would consider his bill, which he said had been misunderstood throughout the session.

"Once it gets a bad name, it's hard to bring it back," Greene said.

But even with only House approval, the freshman lawmaker said the bill still sends a strong message against more federal gun control.

Last month's public hearings for HB76 and HB114 attracted one of the session's largest crowds, and openly carried weapons — including an assault rifle — were prominently on display.

Other gun-related legislation this session generated less controversy.

HB121, sponsored by Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, allows troubled families to turn over their guns temporarily to local law enforcement agencies. Dubbed the "safe harbor" bill, it passed both the House and Senate with little debate.

The Legislature also approved HB317, sponsored by Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Orem, which makes it a misdemeanor to publicize the names of concealed weapons permit holders.

Pitcher said while he has no way of knowing, he believes the Connecticut shooter's mother might have wanted to remove the guns used to kill her and the other victims from her home because of her son's apparent mental health issues.

Anderegg said his legislation was responding to a New York newspaper's decision to publish a list of concealed weapons permit holders and maps pinpointing where they lived in the wake of the Connecticut shootings.

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