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Current law allows Utahns to defend themselves, rather than flee, from an attacker.

But a bill approved by a House committee on Friday would make that legal protection clear, stating explicitly that a person need not retreat even if their safety could be secured by running away.

"The intent here is to just make sure that if someone is innocent and they find themself in a self-defense situation, that their rights are protected," said bill sponsor Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi.

Members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 6-4, mostly along party lines, to advance HB259 to the full House.

Opposing lawmakers expressed concern that so-called "stand your ground" laws can increase homicide rates, with a disproportionate effect on people of color.

The debate included several references to the 2012 Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, by George Zimmerman, who was charged with murder and later acquitted.

Attorney and author Mitch Vilos said that stand your ground laws are necessary to protect people like Zimmerman who are attacked unprovoked, while Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, pressed that the specifics of that case are open to interpretation despite a young man being killed.

"My concern is when my son walks out that front door with his friends and someone sees them," Romero said.

Maloy said his bill would provide the same self-defense rights to all Utahns, with the added language making it clear that their decision to defend themselves from attack is protected by law.

But Romero added that while she doesn't doubt the sincerity of the bill sponsor, she is scared of the current political climate and how well-meaning laws can affect communities of color.

"Bills like this scare me more," she said. "Because maybe your intent is not the intent of other people."

Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, joined the committee's Democratic members in opposing the bill.

Twitter: @bjaminwood