Record editorial: Utah Legislature remains unwilling to act on gun reform
Before the start of the legislative session in January, there was reason for cautious optimism that enough momentum was building on gun reform that lawmakers would seriously consider a few common-sense measures aimed at making Utahns safer.
Unfortunately, though, it was clear by the time the session ended at midnight Thursday that those hopes had been naive. The efforts to pass meaningful legislation struggled and ultimately stalled, with several important bills failing to get enough traction to clear even minor hurdles.
Though no one harbors illusions that pushing gun reform measures through the heavily conservative Legislature is easy, the apparent lack of progress of any kind is nonetheless frustrating. Supporters are now left waiting another year to try again and wondering how much senseless damage guns will enable in the meantime.
One measure, in particular, had the potential to make an immediate impact. A bill from Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, sought to implement a so-called red flag law in Utah, allowing police officers or family members to petition the courts to prevent an individual from having access to firearms. The courts would determine if the person represents a risk to themselves or others by considering factors such as whether the individual has made recent threats of violence or has “demonstrated a pattern of violent acts or threats.”
Not only would such a law provide more protection against mass shootings or other premeditated acts of gun violence, it would address Utah’s climbing suicide rate. According to researchers at Harvard, suicides outnumber homicides in Utah 8 to 1, and 50 percent of suicides in the state are committed with a gun. Other research, meanwhile, has drawn a strong link between gun access and suicide.
A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released in February showed 68 percent of Utahns at least somewhat support the idea of a red flag law. Yet Handy’s bill was dead on arrival in the Legislature. It didn’t even get a vote.
Other gun reform measures met similar resistance. One bill, dubbed Lauren’s Law in honor of the University of Utah student, Lauren McCluskey, shot and killed last fall by a man she had dated, would have made it easier to sue the owner of a gun used in a violent crime. Another would have made a person criminally liable for unsafely storing a gun if a minor or a person not authorized to possess firearms uses it to injure someone.
Both pieces of legislation would strengthen Utah’s gun laws by penalizing irresponsible owners. Neither made it out of committee.
The unwillingness of lawmakers to seriously consider gun reform is discouraging. And it illustrates that, even as calls for stricter laws continue to get louder, legislative progress in our state appears to still be maddeningly out of reach.
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