Gun storage bill creates balance

By By Steven Warrick

By Steven Warrick

The Utah House of Representatives should pass Senate Bill 78, which protects the right of law-abiding citizens to keep firearms that are locked up and out of sight in their motor vehicles. The bill, which was sponsored by Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, passed the Senate by a vote of 25 to 4 and has now moved on to the House of Representatives, where it is sponsored by Curt Oda, R-Clearfield.

The bill is a response to an incident that happened at the AOL offices in Ogden in 2000. AOL had a rule against firearms on its premises. Three AOL employees, Luke Hansen, Paul Carlson and Jason Melling, were fired when a security camera caught two of the employees transferring their guns, after work, from their cars to the car of a third employee in the company parking lot, prior to going shooting. The ex-employees brought a wrongful termination lawsuit, represented by pro-gun attorney Mitch Vilos. First the district court and later the Utah Supreme Court ruled in favor of AOL, despite the fact that the employees had kept the guns out of the actual workplace.

S.B. 78 would help by guaranteeing gun owners the right to store their “firearms in a motor vehicle parked on (private) property…if the individual storing the firearm is legally entitled to possess and transport the firearm, the vehicle is locked, or the firearm is in a locked container and the firearm is not in plain view.” The bill thus protects only law-abiding citizens and requires that their firearms be locked up and out of sight when in their parked vehicles. It does not allow the gun owners to take their firearms inside the workplace. The bill would only cover the storage of firearms, and would still not allow individuals to remove guns from their cars on private property if policies against that type of action are enforced on the property, like in the AOL case.

S.B. 78 provides law-abiding gun owners with remedies including declaratory and injunctive relief against parking lot owners if their legal rights are violated. The bill also provides for the recovery of civil damages by gun owners if they are injured as a result of a rule against storing their guns in their vehicles. At the same time, the bill provides protection to those who own or control parking lots from civil liability for the actions of those who have stored firearms in their vehicles pursuant to the legislation.

S.B. 78 makes allowances for those property owners who have a greater interest in not having guns stored in vehicles on their premises. The bill makes exceptions for parking at single-family homes, governmental offices and religious institutions.

The bill has been opposed by out-of-state groups such as the Brady Campaign, which claim that it would make workplaces more dangerous. It strains credibility, however, to believe that violent individuals, who are not restrained by laws against murder and assault with a deadly weapon, will be restrained by employers’ policies prohibiting guns locked in vehicles in parking lots. The only thing such policies do is deprive law-abiding gun owners of the protection of their guns when traveling to and from work.

The controversy over this bill ultimately involves the question of which is more important, the right of those owning or controlling parking lots to dictate what lawful items parking lot users may or may not keep in their vehicles versus the right of those users to keep an item locked and out of sight in their vehicles. Vilos probably answered the question best when he said, “This bill recognizes that an employee’s life interest trumps an employer’s property interest.”

S.B. 78 strikes a good balance. Employers and other property owners are still free to prohibit guns inside their premises while law-abiding gun owners are free to store their weapons secured and out of sight in their vehicles. Students and other members of the U community should contact their state representative and urge them to vote for this bill when it comes up.

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Steve Warrick