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New state Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, says if people can legally carry a gun or weapon on the street, they should be able to do that on public buses and trains, too.
"Did you know it's a crime if an otherwise law-abiding person carries a weapon onto a bus or UTA [Utah Transit Authority] train?" he said. "Why would that be a crime?"
So Thurston is working on legislation to change a portion of state law that deals with hijacking. He said a constituent pointed out a problem with part of it.
The law says, "A person who boards a bus with a concealed dangerous weapon or firearm upon his person or effects is guilty of a third-degree felony."
It does exempt people with permits to carry concealed weapons, or people carrying them with the permission of the owner of the bus or train.
Thurston says the law, as written, could allow police to arrest innocent people carrying items they don't consider to be dangerous weapons.
"I ride the bus and train. Sometimes I bring a cake into work for someone's birthday. I may slip into my bag a knife to cut the cake. If somebody really wanted to, they could make the case that could be considered a felony," Thurston said. "If someone went down to a sporting-goods store and bought a new shotgun and it's still in the box, if they get on the bus to go home, that's a felony even though there's no criminal intent or danger to society."
Steve Gunn, a board member of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, which often fights gun-rights bills, laughed when told of Thurston's bill and his explanation.
"It seems like an overreaction to a nonexistent problem," he said. "I don't think anyone who is carrying a knife to cut a cake is in danger of being prosecuted by any prosecutor, and not in danger of being arrested by any law-enforcement officer."
After reading the current law, Gunn, an attorney, jokingly suggested two possible fixes other than what Thurston proposes.
"One is to change the definition of a dangerous concealed weapon to include a cake-knife exception," he said. Or, he suggests, expanding the list of people exempt from the current law "to include somebody who is carrying a cake."
Thurston said he is simply trying to ensure that something legal on the street is also legal on a bus or train.
"You can have that cake knife in your bag or the shotgun in the box [on the street]. If it's perfectly fine walking down the street, it shouldn't be a crime when you step on the bus," he said.
"If I'm on a street corner and pull a knife on you, that's a crime," he said. Under his planned bill, "That would still be a crime if I am on a bus."
Remi Barron, spokesman for UTA, declined to comment on the matter, saying the agency would first like to review the bill when it is written before commenting.
Thurston said he is seeking a legal analysis about the effects of the current law as he writes his legislation. He also is seeking comment from interested parties.
Utah Code 76-10-1504(4)(a)
"A person who boards a bus with a concealed dangerous weapon or firearm upon his person or effects is guilty of a third-degree felony."
The prohibition does not apply to a concealed-carry permit holder, a police officer, prosecutor or judge, or a person who has permission of the bus owner or the owner's agent.