ST. GEORGE – In the wake of the reelection and more recently the tragedy in Connecticut, a rush on firearms and ammunition has been rekindled and remains at fever pitch due to worries over pending gun legislation, or a basic need to feel prepared and protected. Whatever the reason, new gun owners have emerged along the way.
How many of these new firearms owners know how to properly handle and store their guns? Are they also familiar with some the aspects of gun law?
Daniel de la Vega of Rowdy’s Range & Shooters Supply said the best thing any new gun owner can do is get “training, training, training.”
Ed Kantor, public information officer for the Washington City Police Department, agreed: “Relating to basic firearms safety,” he said, “the No. 1 recommendation I would make, especially for new gun owners who may not be familiar with firearms, is to take a firearms safety class from a professional instructor.”
Kantor also recommended gun owners learn and apply what are popularly known as the four rules of gun safety:
- Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded, even if you have personally unloaded and checked it.
- Never point a firearm in the direction of anything you are not willing to shoot.
- Always be aware of what is behind your intended target. What is your bullet going to strike if it proceeds beyond the intended target?
- Always keep your trigger finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are on target and ready to fire.
“Those are four simple things that would save a whole bunch of trouble,” Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, who has been a firearms instructor, said.
“We’re big on training,” de la Vega said. Rowdy’s Range & Shooters Supply offers various classes for first-time and long-term gun owners, he said.
“(Guns) are nothing to play with,” de la Vega said. “If you get a gun, get training.”
As for a place to practice shooting, Pulsipher recommended Southern Utah Shouting Sports Park.
Children and guns
When it comes to children in the home and especially younger children, safety is key. And de la Vega advocated training, “train the kids from when they’re little,” he said.
“I would teach my children first and foremost that firearms are not toys and should never be handled without their parents being present,” Kantor said. “I tell kids that if they come across an unattended firearm, they should not touch it but immediately notify a parent, teacher or other responsible adult.”
While training is a primary recommendation, de la Vega, Kantor, and Officer Derek Lewis of the St. George Police Department also recommended having a gun safe or lock for your gun.
A gun safe can keep curious children away from a parent’s guns, although, Lewis said, locks for guns are fairly inexpensive. In some cases, he said, the police department may even supply the locks for free.
Gun safes are a good way to go, de le Vega said. Even while your child may have been taught about gun safety, he or she may have a friend who isn’t as smart and may let curiosity get the better of him of her.
Pulsipher said the best way to teach children firearms safety is to “take away the mystery.” He said he told his children that if they want to see his gun, all they have to do is ask. It doesn’t matter what he is doing at the time either, he said, he would take the time to show the child the gun, taking the opportunity to educate the child about the firearm.
“It’s good to educate your kids,” Pulsipher said. There should be “no secrets” about the guns, he said, but added they should also always remain secured.
Wherever the guns are stored and secured, it is also recommended that the ammunition be stored in a separate area.
What to do when the police pull you over and there’s a gun in the car
“If you are stopped by law enforcement, it is a good idea to let the officer know that you have a firearm on your person or in your vehicle,” Kantor said. “I would personally place both my hands on the steering wheel or in plain view so the officer can see them when I inform them that I have a firearm in the vehicle or on my person.”
Kantor also said it is a good idea to let the officer know if you have a conceal carry permit.
In pull-over situations, Lewis said, officers don’t like surprises. He echoed Kantor’s words about being straightforward with the police. He also suggested the gun be stored in an area that isn’t readily accessible from the driver’s seat.
Utah is an “open carry” state, meaning you can carry around an unloaded firearm out in the open without a conceal carry permit. Though this is legal, law enforcement officials have asked citizens to practice some common sense concerning the law.
In January, a man in Riverdale walked into a J.C. Penny Co. store with a rifle strapped to his back. Why? According to KSL, it was to show others “that weapons aren’t that bad.” Image of the man went viral and made national headlines. Though the man drew a lot of attention to himself, he was simply asked to leave and was not arrested by police over the incident.
Was it smart? Pulsipher certainly doesn’t think so. If you have a gun on you just to make a statement, he said, “to me, that’s the wrong reason to have a gun. Common sense has to come into play here.”
If an individual chooses to open-carry and the police are called, Kantor said the officers responding to the scene will make contact with the individual involved and “determine through conversation if there is any concern.” If it is determined that no laws have been broken, the individual is free to go on his or her way.
Lewis said that, even though Utah allows open carry of firearms, certain buildings and businesses do not. Prohibited areas include government buildings, churches if posted, mental health facilities, the secure areas of airports and correctional facilities.
Business owners also have the right to designate their businesses as gun-free zones if they so choose.
“Gun ownership is a right,” Pulsipher said,” but with it we have a responsibility.”
- KSL: Statecraft: Four things you should know about Utah gun laws
- Utah Bureau of Criminal Investigations: Firearms laws