Disorderly conduct
Openly packing a gun in public
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar. They're all packing six-guns on their hips, openly displayed, but they do nothing else to incite alarm. Are they guilty of disorderly conduct?

Under a bill that has passed the Utah House, they would not be. So long as the three armed clergymen did nothing that would cause a reasonable person to believe their firearms were carried unlawfully or with criminal intent, no police officer could cite them for disorderly conduct.

This bill begs the question whether openly carrying a gun in a public place is, by itself, disorderly conduct. We think it is, for the simple reason that it will cause fear, if not panic, among many people who see this behavior.

Why is that guy carrying a gun? What does he intend? I should call the cops. Those are the thoughts that will dart through the mind of most onlookers. Does it disturb the peace of these people? Absolutely.

Rep. Paul Ray, the sponsor of HB49, doesn't see it that way. He lives in an alternate reality in which Utah police officers use the disorderly conduct statute to prevent law-abiding citizens from exercising their constitutional right to openly carry firearms.

Some police agencies in Utah don't want guns in their communities, and they are relying on the disorderly conduct statute to circumvent Utah's open-carry policy, according to Ray. The Clearfield Republican told the House as much when his bill was debated on the floor.

Ray wants to prevent this abuse of police power, and he managed to persuade a large majority of the House. The vote was 50-21, a two-thirds majority.

But most Utahns don't live in Ray's world. They see someone openly packing in a convenience store or a shopping mall and they are going to be scared witless. We don't believe the gunman has to brandish the weapon or yell threats for that to happen. Just by packing, someone is disturbing the peace and, in the words of the Constitution, the domestic tranquility of the community.

One reason for Utah's liberal policy on concealed-carry permits is to allow people to possess hidden firearms for self-defense in a public place without terrifying the bejesus out of everyone else. It also protects the person carrying the firearm, because he or she does not become the instant target of police officers responding to a crime, or of criminals intending to do harm.

Somehow, though, this version of reality — call it real reality — didn't prevail in the House. Let's hope it does in the Senate.