SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial bill intended to bar federal gun laws from being enforced in Utah was held by the House Judiciary Committee on Friday after a second day of hearings.
Public testimony was taken on HB114, sponsored by Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, but the committee's vice chairman, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said there wasn't enough time left to take a vote.
Perry said the bill is now "stuck in limbo" and that it is up to the chairman of the committee, Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, to decide what happens next.
McIff did not attend Friday's committee meeting but said later he hasn't made up his mind whether to put the bill back on the committee agenda for a vote, citing the concerns about its constitutionality raised by legislative staff.
"Sometimes it's a concern if we spend all of our time and all of our money on matters that don't look like they have a chance of survival," McIff said. "I'm just going to have to look at it."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said the future of HB114 is up to the committee chairman.
"I empower committee chairs to make those decisions and will back them," she said, including "when and if Chairman McIff is ready to put that back on the agenda."
Greene was clearly frustrated but had little to say to reporters about the fate of his "Second Amendment Preservation Act."
"It's not dead," he said. "I don't fully understand what's happening yet, so I'm not commenting."
On Wednesday, both proponents and opponents of the bill were turned away when that meeting was adjourned without taking testimony. Many came back Friday despite a snowstorm, lining up against the walls of the crowded committee room to speak.
Kyle Crozier, of West Valley City, who had been escorted back to his seat by Utah Highway Patrol troopers at Wednesday's hearing after demanding an opportunity to testify, told the committee Friday that guns are merely tools.
"A hammer can be used to create malicious acts," he said. "After a few shootings, the government is pushing to disarm us."
Crozier said he and others were asking for "the tools to defend ourselves" against the federal government.
Jean Hill of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, one of a handful of opponents who addressed the committee, questioned the constitutionality of the bill and said the money that would be needed to defend it could be better spent to help the needy.
"To waste the money on this … just goes against everything we stand for as a state," Hill said.
But a supporter of the bill, Connor Boyack, a self-described "liberty advocate," said the issues about the bill's constitutionality represent only one opinion. Attorneys, he said, disagree all the time.
"Why not allocate money to fight for the right to keep and bear arms?" Boyack asked. "I can think of no better use for tax money."
Another supporter, Stephanie Kearns of South Salt Lake, said the bill should not have been amended by the committee Wednesday to remove the felony penalties against authorities who enforce federal gun laws.
"I think if you're going to break the law, you should be held accountable," Kearns said.
The committee, which took testimony on the bill for about 45 minutes, did not discuss the bill Friday before adjourning shortly before the start of the House floor session at 10 a.m.
Unlike Wednesday's meeting, there were no guns openly displayed. Several lawmakers, including the speaker, complained that carrying rifles and handguns into the meeting, while legal, didn't help their cause.
"It sometimes makes it more difficult to fight the battle," Lockhart said, suggesting lawmakers may eventually want to revisit their decision not to put restrictions on carrying weapons into legislative meetings.
"We want this to be a place where people can be comfortable," the speaker said. "No one was breaking the law with what they did. But I personally don't think that's wise. It doesn't help those of us who are defenders of the Second Amendment."
In another hearing on gun-related legislation Friday, the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee unanimously passed HB287, sponsored by Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem.
The bill allows law enforcement agencies to return confiscated firearms to their legal owner, providing the owner gives a sworn declaration of legal ownership. Under current law, law enforcement agencies are required to dispose of any confiscated weapons.
"I know of many people who have not been able to get their weapons back," said Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, noting the bill was a step in the right direction.
Contributing: Mary Mellor