Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Guns and gun laws were on open display at the Capitol on Wednesday as state lawmakers gave committee approval to several bills spurred by federal attempts to tighten firearms laws in the wake of the mass shooting Connecticut.
The House Judiciary Committee passed one of the most controversial, HB76, known as the “constitutional carry” bill because it would allow Utahns to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, just as they already are able to openly tote a firearm.
But the committee adjourned without voting on another gun bill attracting a lot of attention, HB114, intended to bar federal gun laws from being enforced in Utah. The bill was amended to no longer make that a felony.
Several in the audience slung guns over their shoulders or wore them holstered on their hips. Utah Highway Patrol troopers stepped in at one point when someone demanded to testify out of turn and had to be escorted to his seat.
At the same time, three other gun bills were passed by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. No weapons were on open display, and there were no confrontations.
Legislative leaders have said they would have preferred to avoid dealing with gun legislation this session, but President Barack Obama's proposed gun control measures have put them on the defensive.
Senate GOP leadership has discussed the highest-profile bills in closed caucus, including HB114, which has a high probability of being found unconstitutional, according to legislative attorneys.
"We are concerned about bills that are clearly unconstitutional or bills that have significant problems that we're going to have to fund defense for," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said that doesn't mean the Senate wouldn't consider those bills, but it is a concern.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said support for the Second Amendment is strong and that won't change, no matter what happens to the gun bills.
"I don't think that attitude about the Second Amendment, and that critical right, I don't think you'll see support for that diminish at all," she said.
The sponsor of HB76, Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, said he was attempting to “give gun owners assurance they can do mundane things,” such as put on a raincoat over an openly carried weapon during a storm.
Mathis said the bill would not encourage more people to carry guns, describing it as a “very small step” from legislation allowing guns to be carried in vehicles without a permit that was passed several years ago.
“I’m not trying to encourage gun use. I’m not trying to discourage gun use. I believe, in this country, we have a right to bear arms,” he said. “A law-abiding citizen ought to be able to exercise that right.”
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said the bill would allow Utahns to avoid the background checks and classes now required to obtain a concealed weapons permit.
The other Democrat on the committee, Rep. Brian King of Salt Lake City, said the state denied concealed weapons permits to more than 600 applicants last year because background checks turned up felony and other serious convictions.
“I’m concerned we’re moving too far in our state in the direction of unreasonable and unnecessary access to guns,” King said, calling for more attention to public safety considerations.
Sam Fidler, a coordinator with the National Rifle Association, had his son, Michael, stand up and show off his holstered 9mm handgun. Guns, Fidler told the committee, don't intimidate or threaten.
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