A Utah lawmaker wants to change the age of eligibility for purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21, a day after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, announced the bill on Wednesday, noting that the massacre in Uvalde is the 27th school shooting to take place so far in 2022. At least 21 of those shootings have been perpetrated by assailants under the age of 21.

“This bill is simple,” Kitchen said in a statement. “If you are not able to consume alcohol, why would you be able to buy a gun? I have been a student made to participate in active shooter drills. I have met with children and parents who are scared to go to school. That we offer condolences is not enough. Where is the urgency? If we don’t act now this will happen again, and again.”

The bill is “the least we can do to keep our communities safe,” he added.

Kitchen told the Deseret News on Wednesday that mass shootings are the result of years of policy decisions, and said he “had to do something” given his role as a lawmaker.

“A friend called me this morning and told me about how she was hugging her child as she was dropping him off at day care this morning. And that sense of helplessness and fear that she felt — every parent had that same experience this morning as they were dropping their children off at school,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Kitchen tweeted asking, “Where are my ‘PRO LIFE’ #utgop colleagues today? Why the silence?” in response to a thread identifying victims of Tuesday’s massacre.

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Will Utah pass stricter age limits?

Utah has the 14th-weakest gun control laws in the nation, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun laws. Recently, Utah’s Republican-controlled Legislature has moved to make firearms more accessible in the state, casting doubt that the body would approve a higher age limit.

In March, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill giving the state the ultimate authority when it comes to gun laws, effectively closing a loophole that allowed Salt Lake County to require vendors at gun shows in country facilities conduct background checks.

At the time, bill sponsors Sen. Chris Wilson, R-Logan, and Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, said the bill was meant to preserve Utahns’ freedoms and Second Amendment rights.

“In recent years, local governments have attempted to exploit loopholes in state law to regulate firearms at conventions, not acting in the best interests of all Utahns,” Wilson said on the Senate floor in February.

Utah also passed a “constitutional carry” law in 2021, which allows people to carry concealed weapons without any type of permit or training. The state still offers a firearms safety class, which includes a suicide prevention module, but it’s no longer required.

Even so, Kitchen thinks his bill will get bipartisan support and is optimistic about its chances.

“This is a small step that will make a big difference in the quality of life and health and safety of people in Utah,” he said. “There should be no reason this doesn’t pass the Utah Legislature. It’s common sense gun reform that will keep Utahns safe, and that’s what we were elected to do.”

Is there middle ground to prevent mass shootings?

Following the attack in Texas on Tuesday, Republican politicians largely shied away from calling for restrictive gun laws, but many, like Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton, stressed the importance of mental health resources.

Kitchen agreed that the state — and the nation — need to invest more in mental and behavioral health, not just to prevent mass shootings, but to prevent suicide — which is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 24.

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He cautioned against apathy and urged voters not to become numb to mass shootings when it’s time to go to the polls.

“We had Buffalo a week ago. This week we had Texas. This is happening more frequently,” Kitchen said. “We haven’t seen a decrease in the rate of mass shootings. People are just as unsafe as they were last week and last year and the year before that.

“I’m angry,” Kitchen added. “I’m heartbroken, but I’m not without hope, because we have leaders ... and others that are willing to step forward and move legislation that is common sense and that will be one step in the right direction.

“Yes, we need to do more. Yes, we need to fund mental health care, but this is something we can do and should do right now.”

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