SALT LAKE CITY — The on-again, off-again March for Our Lives town hall on school safety and gun laws in Utah is on again.
The group now plans to hold the Saturday event at 6 p.m. at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy. It scrambled to find a new venue after Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment canceled the meeting at its Megaplex Theaters in South Jordan on Wednesday, saying it could escalate into a potentially contentious situation requiring extra security.
High school students from Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died in a school shooting, will join Utah students for a panel discussion and to take questions from the audience.
March for Our Lives is pushing for universal background checks, federal funding for gun violence research and bans on semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. The group says it's working with the Utah Shooting Sports Council as well as Republican Utah legislators to find common ground and discuss ways to move forward.
The Utah Gun Exchange, an online marketplace for buying and selling guns, is following the March for Our Lives "Road to Change" tour in Florida in a military-style armored vehicle. The student tour is also making stops around the country from Texas to California.
Utah Gun Exchange co-owner Bryan Melchior said Wednesday the movement that grew out of the school shooting is an anti-Second Amendment propaganda tool disguised as a school safety operation. He said he wants safe schools but without trampling on the right to own a gun.
The Utah Gun Exchange has urged gun rights advocates on its website to attend the Utah town hall to offer their point of view on the issues.
Although the company won't roll up to the expo center on Saturday in its massive BearCat, Melchoir said it will have a presence at March for Our Lives events in Tampa and Sandy on the same day.
"We would love to bring members of the gun community. They're good, responsible, solid people," he said, adding it's an opportunity to bridge gaps between the groups.
"We've seen that happen out here in Florida and I think were on the cusp of seeing that happen out in Utah," he said.
Ermiya Fanaeian, a March for Our Lives organizer, said people with opposing views are welcome to attend.
"We think having conversations across the aisle is vital," Fanaeian said.
Still, a March for Our Lives press release says Utah Gun Exchange is a business and that the movement won't be distracted from its message.
"We are not obligated to mold our movement for gun reform and public safety around the desires of a business whose financial success could be negatively influenced by our legislative goals," according to the press release.
The March for Our Lives town hall is open to the public. It is offering 1,000 priority seating tickets that allow admission into the expo center at 5:30 p.m. Others will be allowed in at 6 p.m., and the group said the venue is large and encourages anyone interested to attend. Guns won't be permitted in the meeting hall.31 comments on this story
Earlier this week, the Utah Gun Exchange offered to hold the event at its space in Sandy and extended the invitation again after the Megaplex canceled. Co-owner Sam Robinson said Wednesday the company would pay for extra security to ensure peaceful and safe dialogue.
On Thursday, March for Our Lives said it appreciated the gesture, but Utah Gun Exchange did not offer to make the event space gun free.
Fanaeian said organizers will have a safety team and ACLU legal observers at the expo center to a ensure civil discussion.
Contributing: Dan Bammes