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Utah lawmakers shoot down slew of gun bills

In this photo taken Friday, Dec. 21, 2108, handguns for sale are lined up in a display case.
Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — One by one, lawmakers shot down three bills seeking to strengthen Utah’s gun laws on Monday.

All three bills — one to enact universal background checks, one to criminalize irresponsible storage of guns, and one to create liability for people who give or sell their firearms to someone who later uses it to harm someone — were either rejected or held in two separate House committees on Monday.

By and large, the debate was red versus blue — Democrats versus Republicans, and groups wearing blue or red shirts stating their cause.

The bills were supported by anti-domestic violence and suicide prevention groups, but opposed by gun lobbyists and gun rights supporters. In both committees, dozens of supporters from both groups wore red or blue shirts stating their cause, from members of Utah Moms Demand Action in red, to the gun rights supporters wearing blue shirts reading “Guns Save Lives.”

HB109, the universal background check bill that sought to close legal loopholes to require background checks on all firearm sales in Utah, hit a dead end on a party-line vote in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. Three Democratic colleagues of the bill’s sponsor, House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, supported the bill, but eight Republicans swiftly voted to table it after a lengthy public hearing but no debate.

Preston Maurer, who wore a blue “Guns Save Lives” shirt and sat in a wheelchair, told lawmakers of how he was robbed and shot 12 years ago on the side of the road, and yet he didn’t believe a universal background check law would have helped him.

“Criminals, by definition, do not follow the law,” Maurer said. “What was done to me was illegal, yet it was still done, and if you think a criminal would follow this or any new law, you’re just lying to yourself and others.”

Maurer, like other gun rights supporters and gun lobbyists, argued a universal background check law was only a slippery slope to a statewide or nationwide gun registry, and therefore would increase risk of violations to gun owners’ “God given” Second Amendment rights.

But King and other anti-domestic violence activists argued a universal background check law would be “commonsense” policy to close legal loopholes that make it too easy for criminals to evade background checks and obtain firearms.

Neca Allgood, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, told lawmakers that the man who shot and killed her brother, Jordan Allgood, at his St. George coin store in 2003 was on parole from a prior felony conviction and would have never passed a background check, and the person who provided him the gun was also a felon.

“And yet, he had a gun,” Allgood said. “I implore you to think about my family and the heartbreaking loss we have endured. Think about the families of Utah that might be protected from such a loss.”

Brian Judy, National Rifle Association liaison for Utah, said the bill would be “unenforceable,” and that supporters should instead be “clamoring” for full enforcement of parolees or felons who attempt to buy a gun but don’t pass a background check. Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, made the same argument.

“Until we start prosecuting them and crime goes down, I don’t think this bill is ready for prime time,” Aposhian said.

In the House Judiciary committee, two other bills sponsored by Democrats were iced. HB115, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, failed on a party-line, 3-7 vote. The bill — another iteration of last year’s failed “Lauren’s Law,” which was inspired by Lauren McCluskey, a University of Utah student who was gunned down in 2018 — would create liability for people who give or sell their firearms to someone who later uses it to harm someone or damage property.

That same committee also voted unanimously — including Democrats and Republicans — to hold HB136, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, after a slew of gun rights activists spoke against it. The bill would have made it a criminal offense if a firearm is stored irresponsibility and a child or a legally restricted person obtains the gun and hurts someone.

Supporters argued it would prevent suicide by gun, which in Utah is the most common method of suicide, and stop preventable death of children, but critics argued the same logic would be to criminalize parents who don’t lock up their toxic chemicals, since the most common form of accidental death in Utah is by poison.

Meanwhile, a pair of bills being sponsored by Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, awaits action. His bill to block local gun laws, targeting Salt Lake County for enacting background check requirements at gun shows, was on a House committee agenda Monday, but was held while he makes changes. He said he expects to discuss it in committee later this week.

Maloy’s other bill, one that would allow Utahns to voluntarily put themselves on a no-buy list but is criticized by anti-gun violence groups as pointless, is awaiting action on the House floor.

Another red flag bill was also abandoned by a Republican sponsor earlier this legislative session, but may still be carried by a Republican Senate sponsor and Democratic House sponsor later this session.