SALT LAKE CITY — A national organization opposing Utah's .05 percent blood alcohol DUI limit has Rep. Norm Thurston in its sights for a bill that carves out self-defense exceptions for laws against using a firearm while intoxicated.
But Thurston, R-Provo, calls a newspaper advertisement targeting him "completely misguided" and "uninformed."
The full-page advertisement from the American Beverage Institute scheduled to run Tuesday in The Salt Lake Tribune calls Thurston a hypocrite, asking "Too drunk to drive but sober enough to carry a .45?"
"Thurston and Utah lawmakers can't have it both ways: If someone is sober enough to safely handle a firearm at .05, they can't also be too drunk to drive and jailed for a DUI. Passing this amendment would prove that legislators don't actually believe people are meaningfully impaired at .05," the advertisement claims.
Thurston, however, maintains that he doesn't believe anyone who is intoxicated should be using a firearm, and HB328 wouldn't change that. Instead, he says, it would allow someone who had been drinking to still protect their home or their life within the bounds of Utah's self-defense law.
"We do not want drunk people using guns. We do not want drunk people hunting. We do not want drunk people walking around with a concealed weapon on their hip," Thurston said Monday. "In the rare case where somebody has been drinking and their life is threatened, we want to recognize that they have a right to defend themselves."
Sarah Longwell, the American Beverage Institute's managing director, issued a statement Monday saying Thurston's bill "reveals the hypocrisy behind the .05 law’s fiercest defenders and calls into question their previous claims that someone at .05 is dangerously impaired."
"The Utah Legislature should take this opportunity to readdress the .05 statute — perhaps by delaying implementation to further examine the issue or by moving to a tiered penalty system similar to those they have in Europe," Longwell said.
The organization based in Washington, D.C., calls itself "the only organization dedicated to the protection of responsible on-premise consumption of adult beverages." It made headlines in Utah last year when it ran a newspaper ad likening drivers with .05 percent impairment to drivers over the age of 65 hitting the roads.
Thurston claims that by arguing drivers should be able to get behind the wheel after drinking any amount, the American Beverage Institute's message doesn't resonate with Utahns.
"No matter how much ABI wishes it were OK to drink and drive, it's not OK to drink and drive," the Provo Republican said.
HB328, Thurston says, is one of four bills he is running this year in fulfillment of a promise he made last year when legislators lowered Utah's DUI limit, assuring stakeholders that they could bring forward any "tweaks" they want to see debated this year.
"This is something that came out of discussions with the gun advocates," Thurston said.
Thurston doubts the bill will make it through the Judiciary Committee without changes, and he doesn't know if it will ultimately pass.
"I actually have no opinion as to whether I think this bill, as it is written today, should pass or not. I was just willing to fulfill my promise to the stakeholders to let them have an opportunity to have the Legislature explore necessary tweaks to remedy unintended consequences."
In addition to the self-defense exception, Thurston's bill states that someone who has been drinking and has a gun locked up somewhere, or who has a gun in their home, business or in the home of another person with permission, would not be in violation of the law.25 comments on this story
Existing language in that law specifying that a valid hunting license or concealed carry permit does not allow someone to drink and use a firearm is not affected by the bill.
In addition to the firearm amendments, Thurston said he is running HB98 for Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, which would no longer classify "novice drivers" as alcohol-restricted drivers; HB120 for the restaurant industry, addressing dram-shop liability; and HB397 at the request of defense attorneys, which would allow first-time DUI offenders to receive a limited driver's license.