SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial bill intended to stop the enforcement of federal gun laws in Utah was approved Monday by the House Judiciary Committee after minimal debate.
The sponsor of HB114, Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, called his revised bill "an appropriate step given the effort we see from the federal government" to infringe on the rights of Utahns when it comes to guns.
The bill now affirms Utah's authority to regulate guns over any "conflicting" federal actions, and although it states that neither local nor federal authorities can enforce federal gun laws in Utah, there are no longer any penalties for violations.
Greene said he knows his bill has raised concerns.
Gov. Gary Herbert has said repeatedly he sees no need to change the state's current gun laws and has told lawmakers he doesn't want to see any so-called "message" bills that serve only to stir emotion. The governor's office had no further comment Monday.
"I understand the governor has indicated he doesn't want any gun legislation passed that is reactionary. … I don't believe this is a gun law," Greene said, calling it instead a pushback against the federal government.
Other states are considering similar measures, he said, as well as legislation attempting to limit the federal government in other areas, including the ability to fly unmanned drones within their borders and to control airports through the Transportation Security Administration.
"We're not alone in this effort," the freshman lawmaker said. "I think other states are waking up."
While HB114 no longer makes it a felony for federal authorities to enforce the nation's gun laws in Utah, there remained some question about its impact in some instances, such as when the TSA encounters guns brought into airports.
"It appears to be a broad prohibition," Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, said.
Greene said he would be willing to make further changes to the bill when it reaches the House floor for a vote.
Only two members of the committee, Democratic Reps. Brian King and Patrice Arent, voted against advancing the bill. King said he would not support a bill with a constitutional note from legislative staff warning it faces a possible court challenge.
King said the Utahns who've contacted him about the bill "demonstrate a misunderstanding" of the Second Amendment. They believe the Second Amendment allows for no restrictions on gun ownership, he said.
The right to bear arms, King said, is not "God-given. It's given by the Constitution."
Because public testimony was previously taken on HB114, only committee members spoke to the bill Monday.
Unlike the previous hearing on HB114 and this session's other high-profile gun bill, HB76, which does away with the need to obtain a concealed weapons permit, only a few people were in attendance and no openly carried assault rifles or other weapons were on display.
HB114 had been held in the committee over several meetings. The committee chairman, Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, said Monday he was "extremely appreciative" of the work Greene had done on the bill to focus on the single point that "Utah is in charge within its own borders."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, declined to predict whether there was enough support to pass the bill in the House.
"It's hard to say," Lockhart said, noting she and many other representatives were not familiar with the changes made to the bill. "Each of us is going to have to take a look" and see what the bill actually does now.
Senate leaders didn't have much enthusiasm for the bill.
"It seems very watered down," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. "I guess we need to know what the bill does now."
Niederhauser also said it's almost getting too late in the session for the bill to be properly vetted in the Senate. He said it's "preferable" that major issues have a committee hearing before going to the floor for a vote."
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said there are still questions about the bill's constitutionality.
"I think we are going to have concerns about those kinds of issues," Okerlund said.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy