SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic state lawmakers are already having gun control bills drafted for the 2019 Legislature, including a prohibition on firearms being openly carried around schools.
House Minority Whip Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake, the sponsor of that proposal, said he was responding to "regular reports" in the media about school lockdowns being ordered after someone is spotted openly carrying a gun nearby.
"Our children's education shouldn't have to routinely be disrupted because someone wants to brandish a weapon outside a school," said Briscoe, a longtime high school teacher.
Seeing "gun enthusiasts who every so often in Utah strap on an automatic rifle, an assault rifle, a long-barreled firearm" and head to public places is "scary and concerning to people," he said.
Banning such displays around schools, Briscoe said, would be "a sign of respect to the institution of public education and to the people who work there and the parents who send their children there."
He said "the only people who should be carrying open weapons around a school is law enforcement."
But Briscoe stressed he's not trying to stop guns from being openly carried everywhere, just within an as-yet unspecified area around the state's elementary, junior high and high schools.
The penalty for violating such a restriction is also yet to be determined, he said.
"This is the fight I want to have right now," Briscoe said, acknowledging it will be a tough sell in the Republican-dominated Legislature. Still, he said, the recent deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is focusing more attention on gun issues.
"Is there an interest? You bet there's an interest," Briscoe said, noting state lawmakers recently received a survey about their stands on gun control from West High School students.
But gun rights lobbyist Clark Aposhian, who represents the Utah Shooting Sports Council, questioned the need to make carrying a weapon openly around schools "a criminal act" because of what he called some isolated incidents.
"I don't think it's been a pattern," Aposhian said. "I'm not saying carrying openly around a school is a good idea. I just don't see it's been a problem."
Briscoe's proposed bill is one of six outlined in a news release by the Utah House Democratic Caucus as showing the minority party in the Legislature is "serious about protecting Utahns from gun violence."
Their requests to have legislation drafted were made Tuesday, the first day lawmakers could open bill files for the next legislative session set to start in late January 2019.
Some of the proposals were discussed at a student rally for gun reform held at the state Capitol last month on the 19th anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Columbine, Colorado.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake, wants to make background checks required for all firearm sales in the state by closing loopholes, including for gun shows and online transactions by unlicensed dealers.
"This is common-sense legislation," King said. He said polls show strong support for such checks.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, has three proposals being drafted, including a ban in Utah on so-called "bump stocks," attachments that allow a semiautomatic rifle to fire nearly as quickly as a machine gun.
Arent also is looking at a bill offering options for the safe disposal of firearms and a resolution calling for Congress to repeal a 1996 action that has stalled federal research into the effects of gun violence.
Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, is having a bill drafted to require that all firearms be stored in a safe, or with a locking device in place, when not in use. She said most responsible gun owners already keep their weapons safely secured.
"Having some reasonable safety measures isn't too much to ask," Weight said. "We want to encourage a safe and thoughtful culture around guns and ownership."
Aposhian wasn't enthusiastic about the chances of any of the Democrats' bills getting very far in the upcoming legislative session because lawmakers have "seen and heard of these ideas before."
He said that while he would want to review all the bills once they're drafted, he's generally not in favor of "any legislation that's based on something that's not an actual problem but an emotional response to something that is otherwise legal."
Even requiring the safe storage of weapons, Aposhian said, poses an issue.
He could support such legislation only if it mandated the same treatment for "all dangerous things," including bleach and other household chemicals. Otherwise, he said, there is an "overemphasis" on the dangers posed by guns.
"I think it's actually worse than doing nothing at all," Aposhian said. "What I mean by that is it creates a false sense of security."