House panel passes bill preventing 'open-carry' gun owners from facing criminal charges

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 31 2012 1:45 a.m. MST

» View our Utah politics blog, with live updates and analysis of the 2012 legislative sessions.

SALT LAKE CITY — As Zachary Wellman left a Taylorsville apartment complex with a .45-caliber handgun holstered on his hip, someone reported him to police as a "man with a gun."

When he arrived home on his motorcycle, a half dozen Salt Lake County sheriff's deputies approached him with their weapons drawn. They talked and police cited him for disorderly conduct. The charge was dropped the next day.

"I'd just like to able to go about my way in a lawful manner and not worry about law enforcement charging me with a crime for only carrying gun," Wellman, 31, told a legislative committee Monday.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, wants to ensure people like Wellman, who was wearing the same sidearm at the meeting, aren't charged with crimes while carrying guns in a non-threatening manner.

Utah law does not prohibit openly carrying a gun. And just carrying one should not be grounds for a disorderly conduct charge, Ray said. Some police agencies, he said, have unnecessarily issued citations to gun owners.

"When you're trying to take away any 2nd Amendment rights, there needs to be some protection there," Ray said.

HB49 attempts to clarify when a person lawfully carrying a gun in public, concealed or not, might be charged with disorderly conduct or other crimes that are not explicitly gun-related.

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee approved the measure 10-3, with Democrats casting the dissenting votes. The bill now goes to the full House.

The impetus for Ray's bill stems from an incident outside University Mall in Orem last January in which a 51-year-old man was walking on the sidewalk with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder and carrying a handgun. The man was handcuffed and detained for a few minutes, while officers determined the guns were unloaded. Police called his actions reckless and cited him with disorderly conduct.

Steven Gunn, a retired attorney and gun-control advocate, said the bill takes tools out of law enforcement hands.

"It is threatening when one sees someone openly carry a firearm, especially in public," he told the committee.

A representative from the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City also spoke against the bill.

Guns are not a fashion accessory and shouldn't be openly carried, said government liaison Jean Hill.

"We're trying to foster a culture of life," she said. "Guns as an accessory don't foster that culture."

Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said he believes misunderstanding by police or prosecutors leads to gun owners being unnecessarily cited.

"This is an open carry state. It's either legal or it's not. If it's legal, lets not have law enforcement searching around to find way that it's illegal," he said.

Aposhian did say it's reasonable for people to call the police when they see someone with a gun.

"I don't have a problem with law enforcement responding to a citizen's valid concerns," he said.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS