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Bump stock ban latest of 4 gun bills stalling in Utah House committee in past week

The rotunda of the Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.
FILE - The rotunda of the Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Four gun bills — "Lauren's Law," a prohibition on openly carrying guns near schools, restrictions on domestic abusers and a ban on bump stocks — failed to move to the House floor in the past week.

On Friday, HB331 became the latest gun-regulating legislation to be held or voted down by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

In introducing her bill Friday morning, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, noted that "like the rest of the nation, I was shocked by the 58 deaths and 422 people wounded at the 2017 Las Vegas shooting."

That deadly night at an outdoor concert "shows the level of destructions these bump stocks facilitate," Arent said.

The lawmaker also pointed out during the hearing that 10 states have passed a similar ban and polling shows a majority of Utahns want the restriction.

But Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, spoke out against the bill because it "seeks to ban something that's been in use for a decade with, except for a single exception, no pattern of abuse."

He also raised concern that HB331 violates the Fifth Amendment by "taking" something from a citizen without compensation, saying that it would be "premature" to pass the bill with court challenges pending elsewhere.

When asked during the hearing about the constitutional issues, Esther Chelsea-McCarty, of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, said that while there has not been a direct ruling on the issue, most believe that the Fifth Amendment does allow bans in cases of public safety and welfare.

She pointed out the bill does not require people to turn in any bump stocks they already own and still would allow Utahns to sell the bump stocks out of state, thus not creating an economic loss.

Two people spoke in support of the bill, both noting that bump stocks allow a shooter to fire hundreds of rounds in a minute and that the device is not used by hunters or target shooters because it impacts accuracy.

"Responsible gun owners … will not be affected by this bill," Ainsley Mensch, a junior at Skyline High School who is a member of March for Our Lives Utah, told the committee. "(HB133) is an important step to protect our communities."

The committee voted to hold HB133 for further study on a 5-4 vote.

Three other measures became stuck in committee on Wednesday.

HB217, which would create a 500-foot perimeter around schools where open carrying is prohibited, was voted down with a vote of 2-6. The bill allowed for a gun owner to carry a firearm from their home to car and have it in their home or vehicle and would not affect concealed carry laws.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, said current law allows guns to be taken, visibly, up to the front door of the school.

"Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited," Briscoe said.

Aposhian said in 2011, the Legislature determined the gun zone around schools wasn't needed and since that time there hasn't been a pattern of problems. He also expressed concerns about charges for those who did not know the limits of the zone or had guns in vehicles that are not enclosed.

Anna Penner, a student from West High School representing March for Our Lives Utah, spoke in support of the bill, saying it protects students and the rights of a gun owner while allowing law enforcement to act when someone is carrying a gun near a school.

"I beg you to consider the stress that these lockdowns place on the students of our state. Lockdowns make it incredibly difficult to focus on our education when our lives could be in danger," Penner said.

Briscoe said there has been an increase in lockdowns, noting that a student from the Jordan School District who was unable to attend the hearing had told him his high school had been locked down two days in a row because of people carrying guns near the school.

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, expressed concerns that this could be problematic for rural areas, saying they would have people violating the law daily who are going hunting.

"I think it might work in Salt Lake, I’m not sure it works in rural Utah," Perry said.

Another bill was held in committee with a unanimous vote and will be studied over the interim. HB332 would require a court to issue a protective order against someone convicted of domestic violence and would prohibit them from owning a firearm. The Bureau of Criminal Identification would also be required to let local law enforcement know when someone under the restriction attempts to buy a firearm.

Jeremy Roberts, who helped present the bill, said it would not increase the number of people prohibited, but would be more proactive in state law.

The sponsor, Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, presented a substitute to the bill which took out a section making a first instance of domestic violence involving a firearm or weapon a class A misdemeanor rather than a class B misdemeanor. This would take such cases out of justice courts and into district courts. Duckworth explained she suggested the change because they did not have time to get funding.

A few members of the public, including Darcy Goddard, deputy district attorney and policy adviser in the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, said her office, including Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, supported the original bill but not the substitution. She said that because a conviction in justice court would be appealed at the district court level, victims would go through the trial process twice.

"The most important part of this bill was protecting the victims from being re-traumatized by multiple trials on the same charge," Goddard said.

A vote to adopt the substitute failed with a 3-4 vote. The committee voted unanimously to hold the bill and work to address concerns between Legislative sessions.

HB190, which would place liability on a gun owner when a firearm they have loaned out is used to commit a felony, is nicknamed "Lauren's Law" for University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, who was murdered by a bitter ex-boyfriend who borrowed a gun and tracked her down on campus.

It will be transferred to the House Judiciary Committee at the request of the sponsor, Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy. He said a substitute he is suggesting deals with civil liability and would be better addressed in that committee.

Contributing: Mitch Wilkinson