, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that says carrying a gun in public is not, in itself, threatenting behavior.

On a vote of 22-4, the Utah Senate approved on second reading HB49, which is primarily a clarifying measure.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the bill's Senate sponsor, said Utah law currently allows gun owners to carry weapons openly in public. HB49, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Sunset, clarifies "the mere fact that you have a weapon that is either concealed or open carry, that in itself doesn't constitute threatening behavior," Bramble said. 

The issue came to a head in January after an Orem man walked along the sidewalk at University Mall in Orem with an assault rifle slung over his back and carrying a handgun. 

While the man was not breaking the law for carrying the guns openly, police deemed his actions reckless and he was charged with disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor. He was fined $500 and placed on probation for a year. He also was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment, according to court documents.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said the bill draws a bright line between what is permitted under law and what goes too far. When the law is so complicated that "an average man can't understand it, there is no liberty." 

Bramble said the bill fixes the ambiguity in the current law. If someone's behavior is threatening while carrying a gun, they could be charged with disorderly conduct.

However, HB49 "makes it statutorially clear" simply carrying a gun in public is not disorderly conduct, Bramble said.

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