SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial bill allowing people to carry concealed guns without a permit in Utah won't get off the firing line this year.
Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said he's going to sit on SB97 after his GOP colleagues didn't show much interest in advancing the legislation during a closed-door caucus Tuesday.
"Evidently, the Legislature doesn't feel it’s a good time to do it right now with all the controversy," Hinkins said. "I think it's a great time to do it, personally, with all the pushback we're getting from the federal government on gun bills."
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, cited the ongoing standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon among the reasons Republican senators don't want to consider a so-called "constitutional carry" law this session.
"This may not be the best time," he said.
Oregon state troopers shot and killed militant leader Robert "Lavoy" Finicum last month after the FBI said he ignored demands to surrender, tried to elude pursuing officers and slammed into a snowbank after swerving to avoid a police roadblock.
Utah law allows guns to be openly carried. But it is against the law to have it under a jacket or in a purse without a permit. Hinkins proposed making it legal to carry a concealed gun for anyone at least 21 years old.
"You can pack a gun anyway. Should a woman have to carry it on her hip when she could put it in her handbag? I think it's stupid," he said.
Hinkins said there's plenty of other controversial legislation, such as medical marijuana, moving through the Capitol.
"It's just funny that all of a sudden my bill is over the top," he said.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said the issue is complicated.
"If you're on your horse out in a rural area on a ranch, and you'd like to open carry, that's a very different moment than in a crowded playground in downtown Salt Lake City. And so having a law that would accommodate for both is what makes it a challenge," Hughes said.
He said he considers himself a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but lawmakers have to be sensitive to that challenge because having gun laws "that wouldn't be well-received could have the effect of impeding our right to bear arms in a greater way."
The Senate passed the same bill Hinkins ran last year, but it did not get through the House. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed a similar bill in 2013 and said he would veto it again this year.
The governor's position didn't have much influence on GOP senators not supporting the measure, Okerlund said.
Hinkins said he will run the bill again next year if he's re-elected to a third term.
Meantime, the House passed HB67, which eliminates the prohibition of carrying a gun on a bus with no criminal intent.
Under Utah law, if someone is packing a firearm or another weapon illegally on public streets, it's a misdemeanor in most cases. But on a bus or train, it's a felony. The bill would reduce the penalty to a misdemeanor.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche