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Bishop Wester joins voices calling for veto of controversial gun bill

SALT LAKE CITY — The leader of Utah's Catholics, Salt Lake City's mayor and a mother who lost her daughter in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School have all added their voices to those asking Gov. Gary Herbert to veto a controversial gun bill.

The Utah Legislature approved HB76, which would the law to allow Utahns to carry a concealed weapon without a concealed weapons permit — meaning no classes or background checks would be required — as long as the firearm is unloaded, which by law means there is not a round in the chamber.

The Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, penned a strongly worded letter to the governor asking that he veto the bill in an effort to "promote a culture of life" in Utah.

He said Friday that the bill was "ill-advised and unnecessary" and undermines public safety. He believes the "unloaded" provision of the bill was a "limited concession" that "does nothing to protect the public."

"Most importantly, removing all restrictions on Utahns who want to carry firearms in public parks, businesses, or any other suburban or urban locale sends the message that deadly force and intimidation are not only allowed in our state, but encouraged," Bishop Wester said. "HB76 establishes a culture in Utah that prioritizes deadly weapons over human life."

The bishop said Friday that the Catholic Church tries to be careful and "not weigh in on things that are beyond our purview," but he felt this issue was an important one that spoke to the value of human life. Requiring background checks is the "sensible, reasonable thing to do," he said.

"People are being killed by guns at an alarming rate," Bishop Wester said. "Anything that touches on guns, especially the proliferation of guns, is a concern.

"A gun is a very forceful instrument, a very lethal thing and it makes sense that we do have laws that require background checks as a way of protecting the sanctity of human life."

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker also sent a letter to Herbert urging him to veto the bill, adding his voice to the Utah Chiefs of Police Association and the Utah League of Cities and Towns and other groups pushing for a veto. Becker said the amendment represents a "dramatic change" in the current law and permit process that "has worked well for the permit holders, law enforcement and the public."

"I am convinced that HB76 presents a danger to public safety and removes an important safeguard," Becker wrote. "I ask you in the strongest possible terms to veto the bill when it arrives on your desk."

Alissa Parker, mother of Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old girl who was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., also wrote to Herbert, asking that he veto the bill. Though Parker lives in Connecticut, her daughter was buried in Utah and much of her extended family continues to live in the state.

She apparently made the request on behalf of herself and her sister, who lives in Ogden.

Although Herbert has stopped short of saying he would veto HB76, he reiterated several times that Utah's gun laws aren't broken and don't need changing. But should he reject the bill, the Legislature could override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

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