Cushman: Elected Officials Should Prioritize Public Safety Over Partisan Agendas

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The business end of a Glock 19. Opinion writer KC Ellen Cushman says, "If any other cause of death posed as great a threat to public health as gun violence, the Utah legislature would be passing legislation to mitigate the risk." (Photo by: Justin Prather | The Utah Chronicle).

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer

 

The short length of Utah’s legislative session can make it hard to keep up with all the legislation being passed, but one bill that should not be ignored or lost in the fray of these final weeks is Representative Maloy’s H.B. 271.

This bill amends firearm preemption laws, removes power from local governments and gives the state legislature the sole ability to make gun regulations. H.B. 271 reaffirms “the individual right to keep and bear arms being a constitutionally protected right under Article 1, Section 6 of the Utah Constitution and the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This bill is cleverly disguised as a positive change by providing “uniform civil and criminal firearm laws throughout the state,” but goes too far in limiting the power of local governments by declaring “that the Legislature occupies the whole field of state regulation of firearms and ammunition.”

 

Anti-Conservative in Nature

H.B. 271 is proposed by a Republican representative and is meant to protect the Second Amendment, but it is inherently anti-conservative because it massively takes away power from state and local governments, including city and county governments and educational institutions.

The Republican Party has long advocated for small government and power centered at the local level. Not only do these firearm preemption amendments go against conservative ideals, but they are anti-democratic. Taking power away from local authorities — many of whom are elected — restricts their ability to keep their communities safe when they know the needs of their communities best.

Gun violence is a Utah issue as much as it is a United States issue. Utah is in the top 20 states for gun deaths, averaging 365 gun deaths each year. In November of last year, shots were fired at the Complex in Salt Lake City, resulting in three injuries. Just this month, Salt Lake City police responded to calls of shots fired and a stabbing at a truck stop. If any other cause of death posed as great a threat to public health as gun violence, the Utah legislature would be passing legislation to mitigate the risk. But because the threat is in a state with a Republican majority, they instead propose legislation to prevent local governments from tackling gun violence in their communities. H.B. 271 promotes an unhealthy view of public policy.

 

Overly Harsh Punishments

This bill not only goes too far in granting power to the state legislature but also in the punishments it gives to local governments that create gun policy. In the original version of the bill, H.B 271 would have given the legislature the ability to fine local authorities $500 a day, even if they are acting at the request of their constituents. Local governments already have overextended budgets. Fining them for taking action to keep their communities safe is wrong and unjustifiably harsh.

What is more concerning, however, is that the original firearm preemption amendments would have given the legislature the authority to remove noncompliant local elected officials from office. It does not make sense to give the legislature the power to remove local officials from office for doing their job as representatives of their communities. It is astounding that the Utah legislature would consider disregarding the voices of Utah voters and using their legislative authority to punish other elected officials.

 

The Legislature Needs to Stop Taking Away Safeguards for University Safety

Guns used to be banned on the University of Utah’s campus until then-Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff voiced in 2001 that the University could not do this, and in 2004 the state legislature passed a law to prohibit schools from restricting ownership and use of firearms. This is why students cannot carry nunchucks on campus but are allowed concealed carry firearms.

The university still resists open carry policies, but that could be threatened by this bill, which takes away the ability of state-funded educational institutions to make gun policy for their facilities. It is frustrating that after multiple on-campus shootings at the U, the legislature is doubling down on policies that would make it more difficult for the university to protect its students. Our representatives should not stop our school from keeping us safe.

Ultimately, H.B. 271 is a thinly veiled, partisan attempt to steal power from local governments and shows a blatant disregard for public safety. Rather than push a factional agenda and punish others for disagreeing with them, legislators should propose substantive policies to improve their constituents’ lives. The role of elected officials is not to arbitrarily increase their power using partisan tricks — it is ridiculous that any amount of time in our short legislative session is being wasted on exactly that.

 

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@kcellenc