ST. GEORGE – Utah’s governor and lawmakers are discussing possible gun control measures in relation to preventing school shootings in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead.
Gov. Gary Herbert was interviewed for the Politico’s “Off Message” podcast Friday while visiting Washington, D.C. for the National Governors Association conference. While interviewer Isaac Dovere asked Herbert about Mitt Romney’s run for the Senate and Utah’s vying to host the 2030 Winter Olympics, the conversation eventually shifted to gun control.
“There’s no simply answer to this issue,” Herbert said. However, the governor did say he would consider raising the age from 18 to 21 for buying certain semi-automatic rifles, limiting magazine sizes and supporting more comprehensive background checks.
“I support better background checks,” Herbert said. “Complete, comprehensive background checks to make sure people don’t have access to guns if they are convicted felons, have bad behavior or have mental health issues.”
While Herbert said the idea of raising the buying age for a semi-automatic rifle such as the AR-15 – the weapon reportedly used by the shooter in Florida – may seem “a little incongruous” seeing as some can enter military service at 18, he added there may be something to be said for gaining common sense as one gets older.
As for magazine size, Herbert said he didn’t see much need anything beyond a seven- or nine-round magazine.
“Once you get past a typical size when you go out hunting, you’re probably having excess baggage you don’t need,” he said. “I have no problem with restricting magazines.”
One idea Herbert wasn’t very supportive of was that of arming teachers.
“I don’t think we want to have people (in schools) armed,” he said, even though he acknowledged that Utah allows teachers to conceal carry like any other Utah residents with a state-issued permit.
Utah law currently does not allow school districts to enact policies banning conceal carry firearms on campus, Herbert said, so there’s a possibility some teachers on campus may already be armed.
Still, he favored leaving the matter of being armed in a school to school resource officers who have received special training.
Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, has a different opinion. He told St. George News that he favors seeing teachers armed – provided they get properly trained to qualify for it.
“If a teacher wants to go through that training, then great,” Brooks said.
Many teachers have shown they are willing to stand between their students and gunfire, Brooks said, so why not allow them to be armed?
Brooks also said he doesn’t believe the AR-15 and similar firearms are the problem. Rather, he said, it is tied to issues regarding mental illness and a general deterioration in societal morals, among other factors.
Herbert agrees that mental health plays a role in the overall issue of school shootings and must be addressed. During the podcast interview, Herbert also pointed the finger at Hollywood and the video game industry for producing movies and games that glorify “blood and guts” and desensitize young people to gore and killing.
Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-Utah, said the state is renewing efforts to make mental health care available to the youth in the state. He told St. George News these efforts are a “first line of defense” in potentially preventing tragedies involving mass shootings.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told the Salt Lake Tribune that lawmakers in Utah’s House of Representatives are looking to see what changes they can make in remaining two weeks of this year’s legislative session to address school shootings.
Hughes said lawmakers, school officials, gun-rights advocates and others may focus on how to enhance school security.
However, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser isn’t so certain the Legislature will be able to pass substantive legislation during the final weeks of the session, according to the Deseret News.
Discussion of gun policy in relation to school safety may be better handled during interim legislative sessions leading to the 2019 session, he said.
“I want to sort out what would be good policy versus what would just be window dressing,” Niederhauser told reporters Friday.
However, on Monday Niederhauser said he’s personally drafting a bill that would spend more on school security, according the Fox 13 News.
The additional funding for school security could be used to put school resource officers in schools where they currently are not assigned, Snow said.
“School resource officers play a very important role (in school safety),” he said.
Fox 13 News also reported that a bill being drafted by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, may allow the courts to order to confiscation of firearms from those deemed seriously mentally ill.
Whether Handy’s bill as able to survive the final days of the session remains to be seen.
Herbert said whatever policies end up becoming law need to be based on good policy, not simply a “feel good thing” but rather policy that “actually has a better outcome.”
Solving the issue of gun violence in schools also shouldn’t be a partisan issue, he said.
“The problem is we end up making this a partisan issue,” the governor said, “and I think it ought to be based on common sense and good policy. And I think Democrats and Republicans alike can have good common sense.”
Overall, it will take bringing together “a lot of different aspects to this (issue) to solve the problem,” Herbert said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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