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Bill to strengthen Utah's stand-your-ground law advances to the Senate

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would strengthen Utah's stand-your-ground law has one more legislative hurdle to clear before going to Gov. Gary Herbert's desk.

The bill, HB114, advanced out of a Senate committee Friday after previously winning wide support from the Utah House of Representatives. Its final legislative test will be in front of the full Senate.

The bill would make it clear in Utah's existing stand-your-ground law that a person who doesn't retreat during an attack is "not a relevant factor in determining whether" a person using violence to defend themselves acted reasonably, according to the bill.

The aim, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, is to "end that cycle of victimization."

"If you have to defend yourself and you end up in court, you do not have to go through additional questioning that asks questions like, 'Why didn't you retreat? Why didn't you run away?'" Maloy told the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Standing Committee on Friday.

Despite Democrats' opposition, the bill advanced out of the committee with a 3-2 vote.

The Senate panel approved the bill despite urging from gun violence prevention advocates and a Trolley Square shooting victim saying Utah shouldn't have a stand-your-ground law in the first place.

Carolyn Tuft was wounded during the 2007 shooting at Trolley Square, where she was shot and her daughter killed. Now a volunteer for the Utah chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Tuft called Maloy's bill "dangerous" and "unnecessary" and one that "will make it easier to shoot first and ask questions later."

"The only true purpose of this bill is to further game Utah's self-defense laws to make it easier to shoot to kill in situations that do not call for it," Tuft said, adding that Utah's stand-your-ground law "emphasizes confrontation over de-escalation."

Ed Rutan, of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, urged lawmakers not to support the bill, and instead direct a study of whether Utah's stand-your-ground law is "actually causing more harm than good."

"One thing I can assure you of is the stand-your-ground laws are not evidence-based. In fact, the evidence is quite to the contrary," Rutan said, citing a 2012 National Bureau of Economic Research study that concluded crimes including robbery are unaffected by the law, while homicide rates increased by 8 percent.

"What you really should be doing instead of tinkering with the language is studying whether the effect is harmful or good for the state of Utah," Rutan said.