Burden of proof rests on those who want to change gun laws
The school shootings in Connecticut started a national debate on firearm safety. Many people called for limiting citizens’ access to weapons.
In response to these efforts, other people, including many Utahns, resolved to protect citizens’ freedom to keep and bear arms.
These advocates rightly note that preventing a random act of terror such as the Sandy Hook massacre is almost impossible.
I support the rights of cities and states to wisely formulate and implement their own local firearms regulations. The needs of Chicago or Los Angeles are vastly different from the needs of Park City or Heber City.
Three main bills regarding firearms are now pending before the Utah Legislature.
House Bill 268 Disorderly Conduct Amendments
This bill states that merely carrying a gun in a holster or case in public, without other threatening behavior, is not disorderly conduct. The need for the bill arose after people carrying guns in public in Utah were arrested for disorderly conduct.
The key reference in this bill for me is the requirement of a holster or gun case. These words have been added to the bill in just the past week. In my view, these additions make the bill a wise move to clarify that the lawful carrying of a holstered or encased gun in a reasonable manner is not by itself a criminal act.
House Bill 76 Concealed Weapon Carry Amendments
This bill would remove the need for a permit in order to carry a gun in public in most instances. Currently, Utah law requires a person to obtain a permit to openly carry in public a loaded gun, or to carry in public a concealed gun, loaded or unloaded.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Mathis of Vernal, has said that Utah’s concealed-carry law is problematic. He cites the instance of a rancher riding on horseback with a handgun in a holster. Mathis claims that merely putting on a coat or jacket in this instance violates the concealed-carry law if the rider does not have a weapons permit.
I don’t believe that this hypothetical justifies eliminating Utah’s weapons permit requirement. For starters, carrying a gun, concealed and/or loaded, on one’s own property is not illegal under Utah law, with or without a permit. If necessary, a narrow exception could be crafted to allow farmers and ranchers to carry a gun when working on someone else’s property.
Utah’s weapons permit has worked well for a long time, as do the similar permits that are required in 45 other states.
Each year, several hundred applicants are denied a Utah permit during the application process due to criminal background, mental health, and other disqualifications. Eliminating the permit would remove a reasonable and useful restriction encouraging responsible gun ownership and training.
House Bill 114 Second Amendment Preservation Act
This bill declares that the federal government has no authority to pass a law regulating the ownership, possession, manufacture, sale or transfer of firearms in Utah, and makes it a third-degree felony for any federal officer to attempt to enforce such a law in Utah.
I believe this bill is unwise and unnecessary. There are several federal laws in place today that regulate the possession, manufacture and sale of firearms. Many of these laws are within the powers of Congress under the U.S. Constitution.
This bill would create dangerous conflicts between federal and state law enforcement officers, two groups that normally work together to keep us safe from criminal activity. Utah has ample means to resist federal overreach without the extreme provisions contained in this bill.
For many years, Utah has had gun laws that seem to work quite well in fostering public safety while at the same time safeguarding citizens’ Second Amendment rights. For this reason, I think anyone who proposes to change Utah’s existing gun laws bears a heavy burden to show the need for such a change.
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