Barron: Proposed Gun Reform Bills Promote Accountability and Must Be Passed


Justin Prather

A broken down Glock 19. (Photo by: Justin Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle).

By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer


There were 33 mass shootings in 2019, nine of which occurred in public places. Just a few weeks into the new year, a Grantsville teen shot and killed his mother and three siblings in one of the largest mass shootings in Utah since the 2007 Trolley Square shooting. After all the vigils we’ve witnessed, America’s increased support for gun reform is not surprising. But gun safety legislation is often depicted as a divisive partisan issue, which can explain why so many were surprised when a UtahPolicy poll reported that almost 90% of Utahns support universal background checks and other legislation that could prevent the sale of firearms to those reported as dangerous.

Despite overwhelming voter support for gun reform legislation, gun rights advocates are confident that no such bills will pass during the 2020 legislative session. Looking at our state legislators’ records, their confidence is understandable. March for Our Lives student advocates recently graded each member of Utah’s state legislature based on how they have dealt with firearm-related bills in the past. Sadly, the average lawmaker earned only a C or D grade. Even the UtahPolicy poll publisher, LaVarr Webb, did not think the poll results should lead to passed gun reform legislation. Webb stated, “Despite the sentiment in favor of [gun reform] proposals … it really is difficult to find solutions that are meaningful and really make a difference.” However, both of the currently proposed gun reform bills could make a difference if passed, as they promote firearm accountability without penalizing responsible gun owners.

Even though his previous universal background check bill never had a public hearing, Utah representative Bryan King believes universal background checks on gun sales in Utah are inevitable. “[It] is not a question of if this kind of bill passes … it’s only a question of how many lives we’re going to lose between now and then,” King said. Prior to the start of the 2020 legislative session, King announced he would be sponsoring H.B. 109, a bill requiring background checks prior to the transfer of a firearm between people who are not federal firearms licensees. This bill also creates exceptions such as guns exchanged between family members, between law enforcement agencies or even between hunters during a hunt. King’s goal is to save lives, not “unduly infringe on legitimate activities.” And if passed, H.B. 109 will save lives. States with universal background check laws have homicide rates 15% lower than states without such laws.

H.B. 115 was first introduced as H.B. 190 during the 2019 session and was inspired by a short, but poignant tweet from Jill McCluskey, the mother of murdered University of Utah student and athlete Lauren McCluskey. McClusky tweeted, “The person who lent Lauren’s killer the gun needs to be prosecuted. It is a great responsibility to own a gun.” “Lauren’s Law” carefully prescribed circumstances under which a gun owner could be held liable for damage caused by another using their firearm. Back in 2019, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andrew Stoddard, stated that the bill was designed to encourage responsible use by providing consequences for negligence without penalizing conscientious gun owners. Now the bill is even more specific. Indeed, when discussing H.B. 115 with me, Stoddard boiled his bill down to a single sentence: “If you know a person shouldn’t have a gun and decide to lend them one anyway or leave it out where they can find it, you will be held liable.”

Both H.B. 109 and H.B. 115 have been proposed prior to the 2020 session, both failing in 2019 to even make it to a House vote, and they are not alone. H.B. 209, a “red flag law,” which members of the Utah Psychiatric Association believed could “save 173 lives per year or more” from suicide, failed to pass the House. Hopefully, Rep. Stephen Handy will propose similar legislation again. However, it is disheartening to know that if it weren’t for the absence of legislative action, lives may have been saved.

Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Asposhian dismissed the UtahPolicy poll showing Utahns’ support for gun reform, saying, “If Utahns say they really want these things, they’ll communicate with their individual representatives, not with some poll.” As gun violence will continue to cost our communities lives, we cannot allow the era of “fake news” to give lawmakers and policy influencers license to ignore a statewide demand for gun reform. 70% of Utahns believe communities are responsible for preventing gun violence, so I expect at least 2 million Utahns to reach out to their state representatives and senators to voice support for H.B. 109 and H.B. 115, because these bills have been specifically drafted to protect all community members including gun owners.

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