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Bill seeks to clarify law for carrying firearms in public

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 1:47 a.m. MDT

Students pick out their fake handguns for class exercises at a concealed weapons permit class at the Weber State University extension in Layton, Utah on  Thursday, April 16, 2009.  (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Students pick out their fake handguns for class exercises at a concealed weapons permit class at the Weber State University extension in Layton, Utah on Thursday, April 16, 2009. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Carrying a holstered gun or toting a rifle would not be grounds for a disorderly conduct or other criminal charges under a proposed law Utah legislators are again considering.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, introduced his latest version of the bill to the Judiciary Interim Committee on Wednesday but said he still needs to make some changes so it "reads a little bit better."

"Last year, there was a lot of wrangling over wording," he said.

The House passed Ray's bill during the 2012 Legislature, but it died in the Senate.

Since then, Ray said he has worked with the Utah Chiefs of Police Association and the Utah League of Cities and Towns to come up with acceptable language.

"I think we're there," he said.

The bill aims to clarify for police that carrying a gun or other dangerous weapon in public is allowed under Utah as long as the person isn't doing anything threatening. Police have sometimes cited people with disorderly conduct under those circumstances, Ray said.

"Last year's bill only dealt with disorderly conduct. We've actually expanded it this year saying, 'Well, there's other categories we ought to fix while we're doing it,'" he said.

The new version lists other Utah laws under which someone openly carrying could not be cited, including trespassing, interfering with a campus activity and disrupting a meeting.

Ray's bill stems from an incident outside Orem's University Mall in January 2011 in which a 51-year-old man was walking on the sidewalk with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder and carrying a handgun.

The man was handcuffed and detained for a few minutes, while officers determined the guns were unloaded. Police called his actions reckless and cited him with disorderly conduct.

Ray says the bill reinforces the constitutional rights of Utah residents.

Gary Sackett, a Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah board member, said open carry is bad public policy and bad for public safety.

"It makes people concerned. It makes people fearful. It makes people call the police to find out what's going on," Sackett said when contacted after the meeting.

"The kind of people who think this is an appropriate thing to do are either paranoid or they want to somehow establish they're alpha males," he said.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, said there have been instances where "people are hauled off and persecuted" by "overzealous" police officers for "very benign behavior."

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, said it's obvious to him the current law needs to be changed.

"Without fixing it so that somebody can have open carry generally, we have created a situation where our concealed carry permit is, in my opinion, in violation of the state constitution," he said.

Cox said the Utah Constitution is "a lot better in my mind" than the Second Amendment.

"To me, it's very clear that someone should be able to carry a weapon to defend themselves," he said. "There's very few places where we've put restrictions on there, maybe an airport."

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