Republicans sponsored and passed approximately a dozen bills concerning firearms during the 2023 legislative session. It would be reasonable to think that legislators are actually doing something to protect Utahns from gun violence. But, these bills will have little or no effect on reducing death and injury from gun violence and could, in fact, increase it.

There are three common faults that underlie each of these pieces of legislation. First, they rely almost entirely on citizens’ voluntary measures that only occasionally address the frequent occurrences of gun violence. Second, they tinker with existing legislation with little effect, while leaving gaping loopholes wide open that would promote public safety. Third, they rely on bad data — or no data at all.

HB199 amends an existing process for the voluntary surrender of firearms in a domestic-violence context. When Rep. Cory Maloy proposed amendments to that process in 2021, he acknowledged that it was used only “occasionally.” Rep. Paul Cutler stated that his 2023 amendments would only benefit a “small number of domestic violence victims.” But, in Utah the problem of domestic violence involving a firearm is neither small nor occasional. In fact, 42% of adult gun homicides in Utah are domestic-violence related. 

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HB226 creates a voluntary process for a private seller to do a background check on a potential buyer. As of October 2022, there were over 4,000 firearms for sale on the Utah Gun Exchange, the vast majority listed by private sellers not required to do a background check. While this bill provides the illusion that the Legislature is protecting Utahns, in reality, it will have little, if any, effect on gun violence.

HB225 requires law enforcement personnel to do a background check before returning to the owner a firearm that was used as evidence, and requires that local law enforcement be notified when a restricted person attempts to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer. This continues to leave in place the gaping loophole that exempts private sales from the background check requirement. 

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, chair of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, recently commented that, with good data come good outcomes. We agree with that. But when it comes to firearms legislation, Republicans repeatedly ignore the best data or act without any data. This session, HB107 waived the permitting fee to allow the concealed carry of a firearm by all school employees, including teachers and cafeteria workers. Active-shooter training or instruction on safe concealed carry in the midst of children is not required by Utah law. 

The potential for tragedy is obvious.

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But the bill sponsor, Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, offered no data in her committee presentation that “hardening the target at our schools” will protect our children rather than endangering them. And, we know of no such data.

Time after time our legislators choose easier access to firearms over protecting the public from gun violence. The Second Amendment does not require that choice. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that reasonable restrictions on the right to possess a gun for self-defense are permissible under the Second Amendment. When our Legislature chooses easier access to firearms over preventing death and injury from gun violence, it is making a deadly policy choice, not implementing a constitutional mandate. The lives of innocent Utahns are lost from these policy choices. How many lives will it take before we get better violence prevention laws? 

Nate Blouin is a Democratic State Senator representing District 13 (Sugar House, South Salt Lake, West Valley City, Millcreek and Murray). Barbara Gentry is a member of the Board of Directors of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah.