Governor tells lawmakers not to let emotions control gun debate
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert issued a list of five principles Thursday he said will guide his decisions on gun control-related legislation this session and urged lawmakers to avoid becoming too emotional over the issue.
"I think it's just time to count to 10 and be a little more thoughtful about this," the governor said. "Don't let emotions get in the way of rational thought. Let's make sure that we do things that are reasonable and practical and really give us a good end result."
His list of principles, which comes the day before a series of gun bills — including one aimed at stopping federal gun control laws from being enforced in Utah, HB114 — are expected to be assigned to legislative committees for hearings, makes his feelings even clearer.
"I will not support message bills that inflame, rather than inform, the discussion," Herbert stated in calling for finding rational solutions that are not reactionary or emotional. "Neither does it help to propose extreme measures that politicize or polarize the debate."
The other principles are respecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms; enforcing existing laws; protecting the vulnerable, including schoolchildren; and addressing what the governor termed "a growing culture of violence."
Herbert said he will rely on the principles to judge whether to sign gun control-related legislation, just as he used a similar list about immigration reform two years ago. The principles, he said, hopefully will help guide lawmakers, too.
Lawmakers weren't expecting the help.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, had not seen the governor's list but after looking at it quickly said it appeared to contain "general principles I think all of us would be in favor of."
Lockhart said the governor's efforts on immigration failed to rein in many of the strong emotions surrounding that issue.
"I don't know. Maybe on this issue they will be," the speaker said.
House leaders held more than a half-dozen gun control-related bills filed so far this session so they could be sent on the same day to committees for hearings, the same way they handled immigration legislation two years ago.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said lawmakers had hoped to avoid dealing with gun issues this session but felt compelled to react to President Barack Obama's gun control measures, which include a proposed ban on assault weapons.
"We have a lot of emails coming in saying, 'What are you going to do to make sure that our constitutional rights are protected?'" Hughes said. "So now the sentiment has become more for me, and I think a lot of colleagues I speak with — it's defense."
But Hughes said he agreed with the governor on some points.
"You have to be calm, you have to have good reason behind public policy," he said. "You don't want the emotion to potentially get carried away. We do that not just with gun control legislation or Second Amendment rights. We try to pull that in on all the issues."
Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian said the governor may be taking aim a recent letter to Obama from the Utah Sheriffs' Association warning that its members "are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation" of the Second Amendment.
HB114, the Second Amendment Preservation Act, sponsored by Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, would make anyone attempting to enforce federal gun laws in Utah subject to prosecution.
"The elephant in the room, so to speak, is the letter from the sheriffs," Aposhian said. "The other elephant is Rep. Greene's bill."
Herbert has called the sheriffs' letter "a knee-jerk reaction" and said their concerns should be dealt with in court.
The gun rights lobbyist said not everyone believes the issue can become too emotional.
"I think it depends on whose base you're asking if it's an overreaction or not," Aposhian said. "Our base definitely feels the right to keep and bear arms in general is certainly under attack."
Gun rights supporters are expected to gather at the Capitol on Feb. 22 and again the following day. Last month, nearly 3,000 opponents of the president's gun proposals rallied at the Capitol.
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