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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks to the Utah Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — During his annual address to state lawmakers, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was asked about banning AR-15 rifles in the wake of last week's Florida school shooting that left 17 dead and sparked new debate about gun control.

The question came from Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City.

"It is a ticking time bomb. It's going to happen in a Utah school," Dabakis said. "Can you please tell me why we need AR-15s and assault weapons?"

Lee's response was that there is "not, as far as I can tell, a meaningful way to distinguish between the AR-15 on the one hand, and many hunting rifles that are not considered assault weapons on the other hand."

He said the distinction can be arbitrary and that banning an entire category of weapons is not the best way to protect people and would not be supported by most Utahns.

"One of the complicating factors in all of this is that there are many millions of these weapons already out there," Lee said. "What do you do with all of those? Do you confiscate all of those? And if so, how is that going to work?"

The impact on law-abiding citizens needs to be considered, he said.

Congress voted down an attempt to ban assault weapons in 2013, after 20 young children and six members of the school staff were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

The teenager charged in connection with the Feb. 14 student and faculty deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, used an AR-15, according to law enforcement.

Dabakis said later he wasn't satisfied with Lee's response to his question, calling it very lawyerly." He said AR-15s "ought to be banned. They ought to be collected and melted down."

But Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said a better way to counter school shooters is to arm schoolteachers. Hinkins said he's encouraging his two daughters who are schoolteachers to get their concealed weapons permits.

"I would like to see where the state supplies training to where we actually take them to shooting ranges and they become proficient," he said.

"My daughters wouldn't kill a fly basically. But if their children were in danger, I can assure you they would kill somebody," he said.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he agreed with Lee.

"I think there's some difficulties in just outlawing a specific gun," Niederhauser said. "There's so many different semi-automatic rifles out there that you'd have to outlaw all of them, and I wouldn't support that personally."

Niederhauser said he has those types of guns and uses them for hunting.

Lee told the Utah Senate in his speech that it's been a good year for Uthans, especially when it comes to income taxes, thanks in part to his efforts to end the "parent tax penalty."

He had pushed for years for an increase in the child tax credit, which was doubled to $2,000 in the GOP's $1.5 trillion tax cut passed by Congress shortly before Christmas.

The state's soon-to-be senior senator said parents were being penalized by the income tax system because they pay to raise children who then contribute toward entitlements of childless seniors.

As parents are "bearing the significant cost of child-rearing, they're also shoring up Social Security and Medicare," Lee said. He said Utah families especially will benefit from the increased child tax credit.

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Lee said the past year has also been good in terms of appointments to the federal judiciary, including the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, and reductions in government regulations by the Trump administration.

Lee called for passage of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, known as REINS, another issue he has long championed. The act requires congressional approval of any new rules with a major economic impact.

"Much remains to be done," Lee said, describing the federal regulatory system as imposing some $2 trillion in compliance costs on the American people through increase costs of goods and services.