I am convinced gun control is not the way to prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown, and will likely only make it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves against the evil in the world —Rep. Chris Stewart
SALT LAKE CITY — Members of Utah's congressional delegation stressed their support for the Second Amendment on Wednesday in response to President Barack Obama's call for a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the wake of last month's deadly school shooting in Connecticut.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he will not back any proposal that violates the constitutional right to bear arms or "unduly impacts" legal gun owners. Hatch also warned against Washington moving too fast on the issue.
"Tragedies like what happened in Newtown demand introspection and action," the state's senior senator said. "Yet, acting too hastily is never a cure. In fact, it can make things worse. I will give these proposals the attention that they rightly deserve."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said the gun violence needs to be addressed "but not at the expense of our freedom," and he pledged to continue to fight to preserve Second Amendment rights.
"Responsible gun owners are not the problem," Chaffetz said, suggesting lawmakers instead look at ways to limit the access of the mentally ill to weapons. "Unfortunately, some face mental health challenges that can make them a danger to themselves and others."
Utah's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, joined the opposition to the proposed bans.
"Most people I represent in Utah are law-abiding people who own guns and behave responsibly. I think folks ought to have the ability to do that in this country. I believe my constituents feel that way, and I do too," he said.
Matheson said he believes his constituents would support keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable.
"I hope we can have a more thoughtful discussion about what we can do that we feel might be effective and maintain people's rights," he said.
The state's newest member of Congress, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said the recent acts of violence, "as terrible as they are, should not be used by the White House as justification to revoke the rights outlined in the United States Constitution."
Stewart said it was "unacceptable" for the president to use executive orders to enact some new measures, including tougher penalties for lying on background checks to obtain weapons.
"I am convinced gun control is not the way to prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown, and will likely only make it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves against the evil in the world," he said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said Obama's orders are "a blatant attempt to give the president greater power, and I am concerned about their infringement on our constitutional rights."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the president's "laundry list consists of demands that Congress limit the rights of law-abiding citizens, executive orders that essentially affirm the status quo, and initiatives to increase federal interference into state and local law enforcement and educational institutions."
Utah lawmakers also reacted strongly to Obama's proposals.
"It looks like the president is, in a very crass way, trying to use this real tragic event to move his agenda of empowering government over people," said state Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain. "It looks like they want to get to the point where only the government has guns."
Madsen, who sponsored controversial legislation to honor Utah gunmaker John Browning with a state holiday, said Obama's efforts are part of a larger plan "to move, methodically, step-by-step toward disarming the citizenry so they can't resist government tyranny."
State Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said the president is "acting like a dictator" and his proposals will not keep weapons out of the hands of criminals.
"These types of restrictive laws really don't affect the bad guy. It only affects the good guys. The bad guys are going to get whatever they want," Oda said. "I can guarantee you people are not going to abide by federal mandates like that."
State Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, said he is having a bill drafted for the 2013 Legislature to spell out the state has the sole authority to regulate gun ownership and federal agents who interfere with that authority can be arrested.
Greene said he came up with the idea after the Connecticut shootings sparked new talk of gun control legislation in Congress. He said he modeled portions of the bill on Wyoming legislation.
"The federal government is just approaching gun control in the same old way, with their blanket, one-size-fits-all solutions that trample on the sovereignty of the states," Greene said. "Why should so-called assault weapons be banned in Utah when we don't have a problem with them?"
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said he is working with other organizations and state lawmakers to improve the reporting of mental health issues during background checks for gun ownership.
Aposhian said he believes the president's proposals are just a first step.
"I'm going to tell you right now, this isn't going to reduce crime," he said. "So they'll try more and more until they come after grandpa's side-by-side shotgun."