Utah Legislature Puts a Stop to ‘Lauren’s Law’

University of Utah student and track athlete Lauren McCluskey was killed in a shooting on campus on Tuesday, Oct 22. Photo by Steve C. Wilson, courtesy of the University of Utah.

University of Utah student and track athlete Lauren McCluskey was killed in a shooting on campus on Tuesday, Oct 22. Photo by Steve C. Wilson, courtesy of the University of Utah.

By Mandi Johansen

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The murder of fellow U student Lauren McCluskey in October 2018 spurred several calls to action to increase safety, including the proposal of House Bill 190 in the Utah Legislative Session, which came to be known as “Lauren’s Law.”

Lauren’s Law will not be moving forward.

Filed by Rep. Andrew Stoddard (D-Sandy), H.B. 190 was intended to prevent the occurrence of another such incident and addressed who should be held responsible if a borrowed firearm is used in a crime. The idea was to hold gun owners civilly liable if they lend their gun to someone who uses it in a violent felony. The bill was filed shortly after the murder of McCluskey, because the man who shot and killed her had borrowed the gun he used.

Seran An, a junior in the U’s EAE program and a close friend of McCluskey’s wrote, “I think that without any change of legal regulation, the institutions and communities which are supposed to make people feel secure (especially university campuses) will ultimately be their downfall and will increase rather than reduce its risk and liability, as well as shrink their credibility.”

As a student who witnessed the unsafe situations leading up to her fatal murder, An commented, “I really hoped that this bill, which is meant to support responsible gun ownership, could contribute to preventing any possibility of murder by someone’s senseless act.” She also said, “My opinion is actually not specifically in regards to Lauren’s case, but this is how I think about the consequences of the rejected bill.”

Rep. Stoddard presented the bill to the House Judiciary Committee on March 11 and stressed that the bill was “narrowly tailored” in terms of when it applies and to what crimes. He also stressed that the bill was not there to “punish gun owners.”

“What this bill does is it sends a message that we want to make sure that we recognize safe gun ownership, responsible gun ownership and we applaud people for doing that,” Stoddard said. “For people who are not doing that, for people who are recklessly or negligently loaning out their guns, we want to make sure that they are responsible for whatever happens once that gun leaves their hands.”

Groups including YWCA Utah, The Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah and March for Our Lives all spoke out in support of the bill. On the other hand, The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Utah Shooting Sports Council were among the groups against the bill.

Brian Judy, Utah State Director of the NRA, called the bill a “classic anti-gun tactic of shifting responsibility from the criminal to the law-abiding firearm owner.”

Committee chairwoman Karianne Lisonbee (R-Clearfield) said, “When we move legally in the direction of creating liability against law-abiding gun owners who have no criminal intent, in my opinion, it would create a situation where … it places the civil liability burden on an otherwise innocent gun owner.” Lisonbee pointed out that the criminals should be punished “to the full extent of the law,” but that the heavy burden should not be placed on gun-owners who could have been trying to help out a friend and had no knowledge of criminal intent.

One of the concerns for the bill voiced by Rep. Steve Waldrip (R-Eden), was that it would treat a gun as fundamentally different than other things that can be used in a crime, such as a vehicle or a nail gun, and therefore assumes the “malicious intent” of gun owners. Rep. Waldrip called for a more neutral way to approach the problem that would mirror how negligence is treated with other tools.

In the final push to move Lauren’s Law forward, Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City), brought up the ways that the bill is concerned with education and the responsibility of the safe-keeping of a firearm that comes with owning a gun.

However, after long debates from representatives with passionate viewpoints on both sides, it was ultimately decided that H.B. 190 would not move forward to the House floor. Rep. Stoddard plans to bring the bill back next year.

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