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Rep. Ben McAdams on guns: ‘I want to consider any option that will save the lives of our kids’

Utah Democrat says he ‘grew up shooting,’ recognizes recreational value

FILE - Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams listens to residents voice their concern about the Olympia Hills development proposal at a town hall in Herriman High School on Thursday, June 14, 2018.
FILE - Ben McAdams listens to residents voice their concern about the Olympia Hills development proposal at a town hall in Herriman High School on Thursday, June 14, 2018.
James Wooldridge, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s only Democratic member of Congress, reiterated his support Tuesday for universal background checks for gun buyers and willingness to look at other laws aimed at curbing gun violence.

But the 4th District congressman also told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards that he owns handguns, rifles and shotguns, and remembers fondly time spent shooting with his father, something he’s done “a couple of times” with his sons as a recreational activity.

“I grew up shooting. My dad would take us to a gun range. We’d shoot. We went hunting. I didn’t have a close relationship with my father, not to get too personal, but I do have good memories,” he said. “For me, it’s about family relationship, about heritage. It’s about memories and time spent together.”

McAdams said he own firearms for recreation rather than protection.

In February, McAdams was the only one of Utah’s four U.S. House members who voted for a bill requiring background checks on all gun sales. While that bill passed the Democrat-controlled House, Congress has failed to impose background checks on gun show sales and other private transactions.

While McAdams said that vote was criticized by some as “treating law-abiding citizens like criminals,” he compared the checks to the federal security screenings that airline passengers must submit to in order to travel by plane, intended to improve safety after the deadly 9/11 attacks on the United States.

“I fly on an airplane twice a week most weeks and I always go through a security screening. I’m OK with that,” McAdams said. “Because it means that every other passenger on my flight went through a security screening and that I’m safer.”

He said he was willing to consider proposals allowing those close to someone seen as troubled to seek a court-ordered temporary removal of his or her guns, known as a red-flag law, as well as limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines, but supporting either would depend on the details in the legislation.

McAdams said he has not taken a position on whether the 1994 ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 should be restored. He said, however, a friend who is a respected community leader and owns an assault rifle isn’t a risk to society and suggested the age limit for ownership could be raised.

“Look, I want to consider any option that will save the lives of our kids,” McAdams said. The two oldest of his four children attend West High School, which was locked down briefly last week after authorities received a report of a juvenile with a gun on campus who was later arrested.

“It’s scary to get a text from my kids that their school is on lockdown. It was a scary moment. I’m willing to consider things that will help protect our kids,” the congressman said, adding, “I think it needs to be done deliberately and thoughtfully, not in a knee-jerk way.”

During his hourlong meeting with the editorial boards, McAdams also spoke about his July visit to the U.S. border with Mexico with fellow members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, following the passage of a $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package opposed by some Democrats.

“Democrats don’t have the monopoly on compassion. Republicans don’t have the monopoly on security. But we went there and we really humanized each other,” he said. “Everybody broke down and cried at different points in this visit.”

McAdams had little to say about his bid for reelection in 2020. The Washington Post recently put his 4th District seat at the top of a list of the nation’s 10 congressional districts that are most likely to flip in next year’s election, citing his narrow victory over two-term congresswoman Mia Love in 2018.

“It’s a sign of what a good election Democrats had last year that Rep. Ben McAdams (D) won this seat in Utah, one of the most Republican states in the nation,” the Washington Post political column, The Fix, stated, noting the GOP is “putting a priority on recruiting candidates to take back his red district next year.”

So far, four Republican challengers have filed with the Federal Election Commission in the district that includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties — Kathleen Anderson, who served as communications director for the Utah GOP when her husband, Rob, was chairman; state Rep. Kim Coleman of West Jordan; state Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert of Orem; and former KSL Newsradio host Jay Mcfarland.

Love, now a commentator for CNN, has said she’s ready to run again if she believes none of the candidates can successfully take on McAdams, a former state lawmaker and Salt Lake County mayor.

McAdams said it’s “way too soon” to start campaigning.

“Election cycles, we drag them out too long. There’s a time for elections. Right now, I’ve got a job to do,” McAdams said. “To turn and focus on the election too soon, I think, is absolutely the wrong thing to do for my constituents and it’s the wrong thing to do for my election.”