Guns in the open
State should not pre-empt cities
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The mythical times of the Old West, where cowboys strode the streets with six-guns strapped to their belts, are dead, but gun-rights advocates in the Legislature are doing their best to revive them. They want to pre-empt Utah cities and towns from making it unlawful for people to openly carry guns. We wouldn't bother to shoot at this farcical idea except that it already has passed a House committee by a 10-3 vote.

Even if you believe fervently that people should be able to keep and carry guns for self-defense, it's not a good idea to walk around with a handgun openly displayed. Nor is it a good idea for the state to encourage that.

Because when other people see someone other than a police officer openly carrying a gun, it frightens them. People know why cops carry guns, but they have no idea what someone else may intend to do with that firearm strapped to his hip. Is it for intimidation? Has he committed a crime, or is he about to? Unless you're very brave, or foolhardy, you're probably not going to go up and question the pistol-packer. You're going to call police.

It also doesn't make much sense for the person who is carrying for self-defense to openly display his gun. It makes you the first target of bad guys when you openly carry. It also makes you a target of police responding to a crime call who do not know who you are and why you are displaying a firearm.

Context makes a difference, too. If you live in a rural community and are used to seeing people in camo or hunter orange carry rifles or shotguns during hunting season, the sight of someone carrying a long gun or even a pistol might not bother you much. If you're in downtown Salt Lake City or Provo or St. George at night, that's a different matter.

Which leads to the matter of local control. It may make more sense for Salt Lake City to have an ordinance that outlaws open display of firearms than, say, Kamas or Beaver. It may make more sense for restrictions on open carry to be different during fall hunting seasons in deer country than at other times. State lawmakers should not tie the hands of local communities to make those decisions for themselves.

However, HB49 would take away the ability of local authorities to outlaw the open display of a firearm as disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct. Some other threatening behavior, other than openly carrying a gun, would have to present for a town to outlaw it.

Gun advocates say they want statewide uniformity for open carry. Well, this would be a uniformly bad way to go about it.