SALT LAKE CITY — The so-called "Lauren's Law" dealing with gun owner liability failed once again to gain traction in a House committee.
The Utah House Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to hold HB190, named for a University of Utah student who was gunned down last fall, after a motion to move it forward failed with a 3-9 vote. The bill was transferred last week from the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee after failing to gain approval at the request of the sponsor, Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy.
The bill would allow a gun owner to be sued if the weapon was loaned to another person and it was used in a violent felony. Stoddard said the proposed legislation has many beneficial consequences, including encouraging safe storage and reporting stolen firearms.
"I think what this bill does is it sends a message that we want to make sure that we recognize safe gun ownership, responsible gun ownership," Stoddard said.
He said he sponsored HB190 because of the McCluskey case. The student-athlete was killed by Melvin Shawn Rowland, a man she dated for a month before learning he was a convicted sex offender who had spent years in prison. Police say he borrowed the gun he used to kill McCluskey from a friend.
Stoddard said the bill isn't perfect, but is an important conversation.
"I appreciate the educational bills that have been brought, and I think that’s important, but at some point we’re going to have to move past education and into action," Stoddard said. Throughout debate on this bill and other gun regulation proposals, lawmakers have often focused on plans that would educate people about gun safety instead of proposing a penalty.
Brian Judy, Utah state director for the National Rifle Association, said this bill would be a "slippery slope" and lead to mandatory gun insurance and criminalizing firearm transfers, saying the liability should be placed on those committing a crime.
"This is a classic anti-gun tactic of shifting responsibility from the criminal to the law-abiding firearm owner. This bill takes Utah one step down the path away from individual accountability and personal responsibility," Judy said.
Clark Aposhian from the Utah Shooting Sports Council also spoke against the bill, saying it would create a new standard of culpability.
"This bill seeks to exact justice in dollar signs from someone who only may have had a tangential association with the criminal," Aposhian said.
Nancy Halden, representing Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, disagreed. She said Utah code relies on prohibitions of criminals owning firearms, which she said did not deter McCluskey's killer from obtaining a gun.
"We need to think more creatively about how to protect people against violence. One way is to make sure that law-abiding gun owners don’t inadvertently enable a violent felon by giving him a gun," Halden said.
Madalena McNeil, representing March for Our Lives Utah, agreed, saying most gun crimes are committed by people in legal possession of a firearm belonging to someone else. She said the bill addresses a dangerous practice of lending guns.
"Providing a weapon that causes a murder is having far more than just a tangential relationship to what happened, and we do need to be encouraging responsible gun ownership," McNeil said.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who did not vote in favor of moving the bill forward, said there were some things that troubled him. However, he added, firearm owners not being responsible troubles him as well.
"I think the gun-owning community needs to go on a crusade to really lock down and encourage each other and promote the idea that if you’re going to have a weapon in your home, then you need to be overly responsible," he said.