Utahns weigh in on gun control | ParkRecord.com

Utahns weigh in on gun control

Jeff Dempsey, The Park Record
Park City Gun Club Director of Training Mike Bergin offers instruction to Sean Simmons during a class earlier this week. (Jake Shane/Park Record)

In the days following President Barack Obama’s announcement of executive action on gun control, one question left to answer was the effect it would have on those in the firearms business. Mike Bergin, director of training at the Park City Gun Club, was preparing to teach a safety class Wednesday afternoon when he took a moment to discuss those changes. For his business, he said, there aren’t many.

"We perform background checks on every gun we sell here," he said. "And we do them at gun shows, too. If you have the ability to do a background check, you still have to do one, even at a gun show."

For the Park City Gun Club, then, the executive action won’t change much. Bergin, though, is still not a fan.

"I think what Obama has done is pretty feckless," he said. "I don’t think it’s going to do much. And I think he’s overstepping his executive power a little bit."

That is not to say Bergin is entirely against the move.

"The mental health part of his directive is good," Bergin said. "Because if you look at the mass shootings we’ve had, almost all of them were mental health issues. My only concern is that people put on a watchlist for mental health issues have due process and a way to get off that list."

Bergin worked in law enforcement for nearly 30 years before retiring, and he said his view is that the laws already on the books need more teeth.

"I think sometimes when we go after people who have committed gun-related crimes, the gun part is negotiated away in favor of the larger crime they committed," he said. "What I’d like to see is, if a gun is used in the commission of a crime, put them away for 10 years, automatically. Make it automatic, just because a gun was used.

"If they steal a gun and use it to commit a crime, enforce that law harshly. Send a message."

Bergin said he does not see the gun rights issue getting easier to solve any time soon.

"Personal feelings run deep on this," he said. "It’s like animal rights. It’s deep and it’s emotional. If you and I were on opposite sides of the table on the gun issues I’d listen to what you had to say and I hope you would listen to what I had to say. But those issues are so internal I don’t think we’d change each other’s minds."

Summit County councilman weighs in

Summit County Councilman Roger Armstrong, who also serves as a director at the Park City Gun Club, expressed measured appreciation for Obama’s executive orders. He said he was happy to see a focus on mental illness.

"The announcement seems largely directed toward an emphasis on clarifying and enforcing existing gun laws rather than enactment of any additional or new regulations or orders," he said. "The measures concerning mental illness are interesting. I think one of the biggest challenges that we face concerning gun violence is the issue of reducing access to guns by those with mental illness and generally finding more effective means of recognizing and affording help to those who struggle with mental illness."

Armstrong said he is uncertain whether the new regulations will have a noticeable impact.

"I am not optimistic that the President’s new guidelines will have a significant or immediate impact on gun violence but they may result in increased enforcement and diligence," he said. "Laws are already in place that address the issue of keeping guns away from felons, minors and domestic abusers, but there are violations. Unfortunately, violations of those existing laws frequently do not come to light until after a violent event by someone who possessed a firearm illegally.

"I am most encouraged by the President’s guidelines creating an opportunity to address mental illness issues and, hopefully, not just with a focus on gun violence. Clarifying the definition of who is engaged in the business of selling firearms to expand background checks may be very beneficial in limiting the ability of prohibited persons from acquiring firearms."

Setting aside the executive action, Armstrong said he hopes gun owners, particularly his constituents in Summit County, will take this national conversation as an opportunity to ensure they are doing everything they can to be responsible gun owners.

"Secure your firearms and ammunition so that they cannot be accessed by those who should not possess them – use gun safes," he said. "Second, if you possess a firearm, become familiar with how to handle and shoot it safely and if you choose to shoot with your children, emphasize safety and safe routines every time. Make safety a habit.

"Third, be completely familiar with your firearms. Take one or more safety and skill classes. Make gun safety education a topic at home – this is applicable to everyone, not just firearm owners. We talk to our children about alcohol, drugs and sex, we also need to talk to them about guns as a safety issue and make sure they know what to do if they come in contact with a firearm so that they clearly know what is safe and what is unsafe."

Utah’s senators highly critical

Utah’s national representatives weighed in on Obama’s gun control action, as well. Sen. Orrin Hatch issued a press release criticizing Obama for acting unilaterally.

"The President is making a mistake by pushing for executive action to limit Americans’ constitutional rights," Hatch said. "Important discussions about our fundamental freedoms are best suited for the legislative process, and once again, President Obama would rather play politics than take the time to make sound policy, based on consensus, that can succeed in both preserving Americans’ cherished rights and keeping us safe."

Sen. Mike Lee released a statement wherein he was also critical of the move.

"It is unfortunate that President Obama chose to mislead the American people today by claiming to close supposed ‘loopholes’ in existing law that never existed," Lee said. "People engaged in the business of selling firearms had to perform background checks on all purchasers before today, and they still have to perform those same background checks tomorrow."

Better Utah supports Obama

Joshua Kanter, founder and board chair of the Alliance for a Better Utah, said his organization stands with President Obama on his executive action.

"Certainly we support it and support increased and more diligent background checks," Kanter said. "That is a position shared by the vast majority of Utahns and it seems like an appropriate and important step in keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them."

The mission of Better Utah is, in part, to hold Utah’s elected officials accountable, and in this case, Kanter said that means questioning Hatch and Lee. In a poll released this week, 76 percent of Utahns supported expanding background checks, the "vast majority" Kanter referred to.

"The most unfortunate thing with senators Hatch and Lee is that they seem to be parroting these far right talking points while ignoring the will of their constituency," Kanter said. "It’s unfortunate. We’d rather see them participating in this dialogue of what appropriate gun regulation is and what appropriate restrictions can be put on that right for the betterment of Utahns and the country."

Kanter said Better Utah is encouraging Utah politicians to listen to their constituency and start having a real discussion.

"The conversation should really be about what gun regulations are permissible, what is working and what is not," Kanter said. "And if it’s not working, fine. Take it off the books. Start from scratch, even. But have an honest conversation about how we keep the wrong people from ending up with guns in their hands."

Kanter said he is hopeful Obama’s executive action will be embraced. After all, he said, what is the argument against expanded background checks at gun shows, online and through trusts?

"It’s hard to argue that background checks are doing anything to infringe on people’s rights," he said. "It’s silly, I think, to try to turn that into some conspiracy theory that ‘we’re taking everyone’s guns away.’ There are 300 million guns in this country. No one could take them all away."

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