Trolley Square slayings heats up gun-control debate

Weapons are hot topic on Hill

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 14 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

In the wake of a high-profile shooting spree, both gun-control groups and gun-rights advocates in Utah are finding argument fodder.
Groups such as GunOwners of Utah say the incident points to the value of concealed carry permits, while the national Brady Campaign gun-control group points to Monday's shooting as another example of weak gun laws.
""We urge lawmakers who have enabled angry men to access assault rifles and teenagers to get other long guns to stand up to the gun pushers and do something to curb the flow of weapons through our communities," Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement Tuesday. "We may never know what, if anything, could have prevented these terrible shootings, but we can and must bring sanity to our nation's gun policies to ensure that other families do not suffer from such tragedies."
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said that the Trolley Square shooting could influence the state's gun laws — eventually. So far, though, the attorney general said he hasn't heard any talk of needing to take action on existing laws as a result of Monday's tragedy.
"My guess is that, if anything, it's going to embolden gun owners, the pro-concealed-weapons lobby," Shurtleff said of the shooting, citing the actions of off-duty Ogden police officer Ken Hammond. "I think you're going to hear a lot more about that than anti-gun or (the need to) further restrict guns."
That's the message resounded by the GunOwners Association of Utah (GoUtah), who sent a letter to members Tuesday urging them to oppose a bill coming before a Senate committee that will create gun-free zones in some areas of university campuses.
"In light of last night's murder spree at Trolley Square ... GoUtah is appalled that the Utah State Senate wants to increase the number of places in the state where effective self-defense is prohibited by law," the letter states.
The letter also warned of an expected "anti-gun frenzy" by the media in the wake of Monday's shooting.
"We find ourselves confronted by a situation right here in Salt Lake City where a permit holder could have been the difference of life and death of defenseless residents of this fine state," said Stuart White, a small-business owner who testified against the university legislation Tuesday.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Concealed Weapons Permit Review Board, said he won't be surprised if gun-control proponents use Monday's shooting to "further their ideological ends" by painting all guns and gun owners as bad.
"Both sides can try to get some political pay out of it. We feel these types of situations actually make the point that a law-abiding citizen should have less controls or it would inhibit lawful self defense," he said.
Shurtleff said that "people have a right to defend themselves." But "there are a few cowboys out there," he said, so the debate could resurface over requiring concealed weapons permit holders to periodically pass qualifying tests that include being able to fire a weapon in a situation similar to Monday's without injuring innocent bystanders.
Shurtleff said he'd like to see the state do as Colorado did after the Columbine High School shooting and put together a task force to take a comprehensive look at gun laws. Although the Colorado task force was led by that state's attorney general, Shurtleff said he would just want to be included in any such examination.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

E-mail: estewart@desnews.com

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