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Utah Democrat resurrects bill for universal background checks on gun sales

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The Right Rev. Scott B. Hayashi, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, and Ed Rutan, center, of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, talk with Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, following a press conference at the Capitol with advocates for gun violence prevention to discuss the importance and urgency of passing legislation to require background checks for all firearm sales in the 2020 session of the Legislature in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — He’s giving it another shot.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, on Tuesday unveiled a bill he intends to sponsor in the 2020 legislative session that would enact universal background checks on gun sales in Utah, with some exceptions.

Gun reform advocates joined King during a news conference at the Capitol to announce the bill after similar legislation sponsored by King wasn’t given a public hearing in front of the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year.

To King, who cited mounting public pressure and surveyed support for a universal background check law, said it’s only a matter of time before Utah passes its own law.

“This is not a question of if this kind of bill passes,” King said. “It’s only a question of when. And how many lives are we going to lose between now and then because we don’t have these effective laws?”

King’s draft bill hasn’t yet been numbered, but staff for House Democrats provided a copy of it to the Deseret News after Tuesday’s announcement. The bill would require a background check for the transfer of a firearm between people who are not federal firearms licensees.

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Kait Hinckley, with Moms Demand Action, speaks as she joins Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, at a press conference at the Capitol to discuss the importance and urgency of passing legislation to require background checks for all firearm sales in the 2020 Legislature in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Under current law, licensed dealers must require buyers to pass background checks, but the checks aren’t required for private sales.

Under King’s bill, unlicensed sellers would be required to use a licensed firearm dealer to perform a background check. An unlicensed person who buys or sells a gun in violation of the law would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a third-degree felony for subsequent offense.

King’s draft bill carves out certain exemptions, including transactions between family members; transactions by or to a federal firearms licensee; or a transaction by or to a law enforcement agency or officer or certain other groups acting within their scope of employment, according to the bill.

After his previous bill languished without a hearing earlier this year, King said he’s hopeful it will get a chance in front of the Legislature when it convenes in late January. He said he’s communicated with the House speaker and other House Republican leadership about the bill, “and I think they have indicated they are going to take a hard look at it,” he said.

“They haven’t told me that they’re going to resist it or oppose it,” King said. “But that’s, of course, far different than supporting it, so we’ll have to see.”

Kait Hinckley — the sister of 15-year-old Kristen Hinckley who was shot and killed during the 2007 Trolley Square shooting and the daughter of Carolyn Tuft, who was shot and wounded — spoke Tuesday in support of King’s proposal.

“The thing is, this isn’t a red issue or a blue issue,” said Hinkley, a volunteer with the Utah chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. “This is a life-or-death issue about keeping our families safe. And that is something all Utahns can agree on.”

Ainsley Moench, a 17-year-old senior at Skyline High School and a student leader for March For Our Lives Utah, urged support for King’s bill, saying critics call her a “gun grabber” and accuse her of wanting to “rip up the Constitution.”

“But this couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said. “In the U.S., we are presented with a false dichotomy: safety versus the Second Amendment. I reject that we have to choose one over the other. I believe that it is possible to be pro-gun reform without being anti-gun.”

Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said the “universal” background check law would not make it any more difficult for criminals to obtain firearms.

“Criminals will simply make this requirement meaningless as they acquire weapons in other ways. The only people who will comply are the law-abiding citizens, the very people who are not prohibited from transferring a firearm in the first place,” he said. “It’s nothing more than a way to criminalize the private transfer of firearms.”

Aposhian argued the law would also have a “chilling effect on those in crisis and hoping a friend or relative could babysit their firearms for a time.” He said as the Utah Shooting Sports Council has been working on suicide prevention, “we rely on these exigent ‘friend-to-friend’ transfers to mitigate access to firearms.”

Aposhian also called King’s bill a “prelude to national gun registration” because a background check as proposed “cannot logically be enforced unless it is paired with firearm registration of newly transferred firearms and those already possessed.”