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A proposal to allow Utahns as young as 18 to obtain concealed-gun permits is once again moving through the Legislature, fueled on arguments that it will help protect young women from sexual assault.
The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee endorsed HB198 on a 4-1 vote Wednesday and sent it to the full Senate. It already won House approval.
Sponsoring Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, said that the idea for her bill actually came from a group of 18- to 20-year-old women.
"They want to be able to defend themselves from rape on college campuses," she said. "Research shows that violent crimes, including rape, are reduced when more law-abiding citizens carry concealed handguns."
Former Rep. Curt Oda, a gun-rights activist, testified in favor of HB198. Pointing to statistics that 1 in 4 women age 18 to 30 will be assaulted, adding, "You have better odds of surviving Russian roulette."
But Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, who identified herself as a concealed-weapons-permit holder trained by Oda, said she doesn't see HB198 as having much impact on the problem at hand.
"I struggle a little bit with the idea that this will be the silver-bullet solution to self-defense on the issue of rape and sexual assault when 90 percent of those cases are people you know."
Jean Hill, of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, disputed research showing a correlation between armed residents and public safety.
"We need to recognize that Utah's had a high rate of sexual violence against women for decades even though we are very much a gun state," Hill said. "All of the guns we have in this state have not reduced those numbers, and we need some real solutions for that problem." The measure is supported by the Utah Shooting Sports Council and the Utah Eagle Forum but opposed by the Utah Chiefs of Police Association.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, spoke in support of HB198, pointing out that 18- to 20-year-old Utahns already have the legal right to purchase, possess and openly carry guns. The only thing the bill would change, he noted, is that these young residents would also be able to legally carry firearms under a jacket or in a purse after undergoing a criminal background check and a safety course.
Lisonbee, the bill's sponsor, acknowledged differences of opinion on concealed carrying.
"Being armed is not for everyone," she said. "It will not prevent every rape of a woman who is armed. But it clearly results in a dramatic reduction of her risk and is therefore an option that all Utah women should have."