Capitol opposes firearm controls

Guns • Controversial concealed-carry bill heads to guv's desk.
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Firing off several key gun bills for the governor to sign, the Legislature showed its willingness to take off in the opposite direction of a federal push to tighten firearms laws amid high-profile mass shootings.

The highest-profile of the measures was HB76, a bill sponsored by a first-time Republican lawmaker who quietly suggested the reason he pushed his legislation to allow the carrying of a concealed gun without a permit was to offer a convenience to ranchers and cattlemen in his heavily rural Uinta Basin district.

It now needs a signature from Gov. Gary Herbert, who has indicated he doesn't care for the bill much. It's also generating a push among groups ranging from the Catholic Church to the newly-formed Utah Parents Against Gun Violence urging a veto from Herbert.

"HB76 establishes a culture in Utah that prioritizes deadly weapons over human life," Bishop John C. Wester wrote in a letter to be delivered to Herbert Friday. "That is not the vision we have for Utah and I hope, and suspect, is not your vision either."

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, however, noted the bill achieved veto-proof two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate. She also said the slate of other bills — including a controversial measure pitched by Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, that sought to have Utah gun laws trump federal firearms laws — reflected the will of constituents. That bill died in the Senate, however, after passing the House 49-17.

"The House was very clear on the message of that bill," Lockhart said. "We're not in favor of what is being talked about at the federal level."

Greene had launched the measure on a frigid Saturday before the legislative session started in front of a crowd of about 1,500 gun rights enthusiasts. But during what was dubbed "Gun Day" at the Capitol in February, when a series of firearms measures went before committees, Greene's bill was the only one that failed to move forward.

Other firearms measures that the Legislature pushed through were ones that would allow for a gun to be stored at a police station by a gun owner or spouse who was experiencing emotional distress for a 60-day period and another that would allow formerly mentally ill people to reclaim their right to own a gun through a court process after proving they were rehabilitated.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, also tried for a second time to pass through a bill that wouldn't allow local police to charge a person with disorderly conduct for merely displaying a weapon openly. But the measure died in the Senate.

The Legislature also passed a bill that would give the state forester and local sheriffs the opportunity to close shooting areas during high-danger fire conditions — a reaction to last year's wildfires — some of which were attributed to shooters.

A Democratic bill introduced late in the session to allow parents to be notified of teachers with guns in the classroom — a popular idea in polls —was quickly snuffed out.

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero