SALT LAKE CITY — All gun sales at events held in facilities owned by Salt Lake County will require buyers to undergo a background check starting in January.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson announced an “operational change” Monday that will mostly affect gun shows at the Salt Palace Convention Center, Mountain America Expo Center and Salt Lake County Equestrian Park. Sales by licensed dealers at gun shows currently require buyers to pass background checks, but private sales are not subject to them.
“I support the rights of lawful gun owners, but the risk of a private transaction resulting in the sale of a firearm to someone with a violent criminal record or history of domestic abuse is a risk we cannot accept in Salt Lake County,” she said.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said Wilson is “absolutely out of bounds.” The Utah Legislature, he said, has made it clear that state lawmakers — not municipalities — make gun laws.
“When the Legislature finds out that the mayor is thumbing her nose at the intent of the Legislature, I think they will act,” he said.
Wilson, a Democrat, said she’s not concerned about the Republican-controlled Legislature possibly undoing her policy.
“I guess if I contacted all members of the Legislature to ask their opinion on things, I probably wouldn’t do a lot,” she said, adding she consulted with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
Ralph Chamness, chief deputy district attorney, said the county would have to revisit the policy if the Legislature changes the law.
Rob Templeton, vice president of Crossroads of the West gun shows, said the county “blindsided” him with the new policy in a meeting about two weeks ago.
“I don’t know if that’s legal. If it is legal, I don’t know how you manage that. It’s just such a strange thing for them to do. I think they’re really trying to appease the people who don’t like guns,” he said.
Utah-based Crossroads puts on 60 gun shows a year in Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California. Templeton said none of the other counties in which it does business has such a rule.
The measure, according to Salt Lake County, brings its facilities into alignment with 21 states and several municipalities that require background checks.
Templeton said Crossroads wants to comply with the law and maintain its good relationship with the county, while catering to its customers. Though details of the rule are still being worked out, he said it would be difficult for his company to carry out. Its next Utah show at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy is in February.
Dan Case, who runs the county’s convention facilities, acknowledged that the rule could only be enforced inside the gun shows. It wouldn’t, for example, preclude sellers and buyers from meeting at a show and going elsewhere to complete the transaction.
“If someone is selling a firearm off property or somewhere else, those are obviously things that we can’t control. This policy really covers the licensed space in which an event is being held,” he said.
Aposhian said there are existing federal and state laws that regulate gun sales.
“Is that what we want, private transactions being conducted on the sidewalk outside the gun show? No,” he said.
Wilson said she recognizes that the county has limited authority, but it does oversee contracts for events at its facilities. She said given the nation’s concern about gun violence, she believes most people see background checks as a good preventive measure.
“I’m not naive enough to think that this, of course, solves our nation’s challenge whether it be in a home or a mass shooting,” Wilson said. “But I think this is step that can be taken by the Salt Lake County mayor.”
Aposhian said Wilson should have put the issue before the County Council. If the mayor, he said, can make policy about private gun sales, what’s keeping her from banning semi-automatic weapons or types of ammunition.
“There’s nothing to stop her using that same logic,” he said.