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Utah panel OKs bill to prevent cities and counties from enacting firearm restrictions

SALT LAKE CITY — The Legislature may gain additional supremacy over state firearm regulation with a bill that would prevent cities and counties from enacting their own gun laws.

HB271 sponsor Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee that the legislation’s purpose is to “reinforce the fact that the state owns the regulation of firearms for the people of Utah.” He said the proposal would clarify that the state has total control over gun laws to the point that cities, counties and other entities cannot implement anything outside of what the Legislature has outlined.

The measure was recommended by the committee 7-3 and will go to the full House.

The bill could override Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s recent move to require vendors at gun shows in facilities owned by Salt Lake County to conduct background checks — a decision she described as an “operational change” and not necessarily a regulation.

Rather, she explained during a Salt Lake County Council meeting, the decision was an exercise of the county’s administrative ability to set requirements with vendors leasing county-owned facilities.

Maloy said he began drafting the legislation before the county made the change, however, some things were added to the bill that would “hopefully” prevent the county from enforcing that ordinance.

“The provisions here allow cities, counties and all of the entities to continue doing what they’ve been doing as long as they are within the law of the state,” Maloy said.

He also cited several exceptions to the rule such as shooting ranges being able to regulate their organizations for safety reasons as well as clarified that a local authority could still enact a policy developed in response to legislative authority.

Maloy said the original bill had quite extensive rules and fines, but the bill he presented Wednesday removed those penalties. Instead, if a city or county violated the state’s preempted order, an individual could sue the local government to rescind or repeal the policy.

“What we’re trying to do here is not upset the apple cart,” Maloy said. “The purpose of this is to protect the rights of the people of Utah as it relates to the ownership of firearms.”

Several gun rights advocates, including Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, attended the hearing to voice their support of the bill.

“Are the state’s elected representatives just to stand by as entities thumb their nose at the obvious intent of this Legislature?” Aposhian asked. Without preemption there would be a “dizzying patchwork” of laws spread across the state, he said.

Representatives from Wilson’s office also attended the hearing to defend the county’s reasoning.

Kimberly Barnett, associate deputy mayor, testified that the Salt Lake County background check rule was the result of a contract negation, not an ordinance or policy change.

“The two gun show producers signed these amended contracts, they were implemented with ease and each has had successful gun shows since that time,” Barnett said, pointing out concerns that the bill would hinder the county’s control as the “steward of these facilities” to set the conditions of contracts.

She also said the bill could have consequences on other safety protocols they’ve implemented over the years with the gun shows that they believe “make everyone at these shows much safer.”

But Crossroads of the West gun show President Tracy Olcott said that the county’s decision came as a surprise and urged support of the bill because she believes the state is the only government that should be able to regulate firearms.

According to Olcott, they were told that the county could get around the state’s preemption law “by making the background check requirement a matter of contractual requirements with the management company.”

Lincoln Shurtz, Utah Association of Counties director of government affairs, said he agrees with the bill’s intent that the state should get supremacy, but there are parts of the legislation that cause concern, citing cities or counties that restrict guns from homeless shelters as an example.

Maloy said he’d be open to the state such a policy if it is not already protected by state law.