Right from the start, let me say that I honor the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, although the editor in me wants to clarify its language to make it easier to understand.
Here in Utah, a lot of people think gun rights are sacrosanct. But when the right to bear arms comes into conflict with a law enforcement officer's ability to protect the public, we have a problem.
Here's one scenario. A person has a gun on her hip, and a cop wants to ask her some questions about it. Under current law, if she remains silent, she can be cited with disorderly conduct and formally charged by prosecutors.
This year, Rep. Paul Ray's HB49 would eliminate that option. As he said a few days ago, if there's nothing threatening or disorderly, a person can't be cited with disorderly conduct. However, an officer still could ask questions.
But seeing the whole open-carry picture from a regular person's standpoint tells another story.
Simply seeing someone carrying a handgun, rifle or shotgun can cause fear among the unarmed. If I were to see someone with a .45 strapped to his hip, I'd have no idea who that person is and what his intentions are and would get out of there quick.
A police officer wouldn't run, but she certainly would want to know the same thing.
Say, as was proffered in the Utah House a few days ago, you're a clerk at a 7-Eleven, it's 2 a.m. and a guy walks in wearing a holstered gun. The first thing you're going to do is call the cops.
Or an open-carry guy shows up at the Legislature. Security will want to know what he's up to, ask questions, and quite likely call for police backup.
That's because, says Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, a bad guy with a loaded weapon can do "a lot of damage very fast."
He said that in his 20 years as a policeman, "we've had very few problems and concealed-weapons holders. It's not a big issue."
But open-carry is different, he adds. For example, a law enforcement officer openly carries a weapon for its "intimidation factor. In law enforcement, that's the message you send."
Civilians who openly carry weapons are another matter. "Is this person's intent to do harm, or is he just carrying a gun? It puts police officers in a very awkward position," he said.
For his part, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder would like to see HB49 heavily revised or held until the Legislature is out of session so law enforcement, lawmakers and we the public can discuss and assess it more thoroughly.
As it happened, on Friday, Ray pulled his bill out of a Senate committee to revise language regarding the disorderly conduct citation.
Given that we're dealing with deadly weapons, the people who carry them and those of us who worry about them, it was the wise thing to do.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.