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Herbert says special session possible to 'fix' gun laws

Published: Thursday, June 28 2012 9:09 p.m. MDT

Alan Baker stocks the shelves with fireworks at a TNT fireworks stand in Salt Lake County Thursday, June 28, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he may call a special session of the Legislature to make it easier for local authorities to ban target shooting in areas of high fire danger.

But he said the state has done what it can do to restrict fireworks.

"I support the 2nd amendment as strong as anybody out there," Herbert said at the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7. "The right to carry and bear arms is certainly a part that we support here in Utah. There are times when we say you can carry them, but you can't shoot them right over here in those weeds."

Utah gun laws currently state that, unless specifically authorized by the Legislature by statute, authorities cannot restrict the possession or use of firearms in any way. Herbert said he is trying to determine if there is legislative support for a special session.

"I think most people recognize there ought to be the flexibility at the local level to address these areas that ought to be off limits for target practice — it's too dry it's too close to the population," Herbert said. "My concern is somehow we've intentionally or unintentionally taken away the ability for them to make that local decision."

With six active wildfires currently burning in the state, the governor called on all Utahns — regardless of their religious persuasion — to pray like everything depends on the Lord, but said, "We are going to work like everything depends upon us."

At a separate event Thursday with mayors and representatives of more than 30 cities and the state fire marshal, Herbert called on cities around the state to regulate fireworks in their communities.

"The state has done everything that it can do to ban fireworks," Herbert said. "Fireworks are banned throughout the state today. As of June 23, that ban has been in place for every place except for the incorporated areas of our state. So the cities and local government officials have the ability to regulate that."

The governor asked city leaders "to do everything they can to regulate the use of fireworks to make sure we prohibit any kind of man-caused fires out there in our communities."

Herbert said residents need to use their "good old Utah common sense" when going out and doing recreational activities and obey the laws, which include a ban on fireworks outside of incorporated cities.

"Cities do have the right to restrict back the usage of fireworks in (wildland urban interface and other hazardous areas)," Utah State Fire Marshal Brent Halladay said. He also called on cities to communicate any restrictions to their residents.

"There's probably nothing worse than to go out and issue somebody a class B misdemeanor citation and they don't even know they've done something wrong," he said.

Utah has received three fire management grants — FMAG grants — from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this year, which Herbert said is unprecedented.

"There is a cost associated with this, and we are all going to share that cost with taxes," Herbert said. "We have resources on hand. I don't worry about our budget. We have a $243 million rainy day fund. We have money set aside for these kind of emergency services which we can draw upon. We have federal monies that we've paid into an insurance program called FEMA which we are getting some money back with these FMAG grants. So I feel good about the resources but there's going to be a cost and it's going to be in the millions of dollars."

In response to Herbert's statements, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke said Thursday that Utah needs to be prepared for fire emergencies.

“As governor, under the Disaster Response and Recovery Act, I would declare a state of emergency due to the threat of 'natural phenomenon,' which includes the threat of forest of range fires," Cooke said in a prepared statement. "I suggest all citizens of Utah to educate themselves, their families and their neighbors about the causes of wildfires, and to be safe and responsible when engaging in any activity that poses a fire risk."

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

Twitter: @FinleyJY

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