SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a former member of the National Rifle Association, said Thursday he is open to changing the state’s gun laws as part of a broader strategy intended to prevent violence at schools.
During his monthly news conference on KUED-TV, the Republican said he supports the NRA’s advocacy and that it would be wrong to blame the group for school shootings such as one last week in Santa Fe, Texas, where 10 people were killed.
But Herbert criticized tactics he called “heavy-handed,” such as the organization’s lobbying last year for a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
Here are other details from the news conference:
Democrats have proposed several gun measures to be considered at next year’s legislative session, including requiring background checks for all gun sales and a ban on bump stocks that allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic fire.
Herbert said he isn’t opposed to considering some of those reforms, as well as strategies to promote mental health and anti-bullying efforts.
He mentioned more rigorous background checks and limits on magazine capacity as other possible areas of gun reform.
He also called for increased counseling services and greater collaboration among schools and law enforcement authorities.
Herbert has previously criticized efforts to block initiatives from reaching the ballot after they appear to meet the threshold for voter signatures.
Utah law allows opponents of a proposed ballot initiative to go back to voters who signed the petition and ask them to withdraw their names.
“Our initiative petition process needs to be rethought,” Herbert said, calling the process unfair.
Herbert said there were “some bad actors” involved in the process, pointing to reports of fraud and threats surrounding petitions. But he suggested those were minor issues that will be handled by authorities.
San Juan County
A political dispute with racial undertones is taking place in San Juan County following a court’s finding last year that voting districts had disenfranchised Navajo voters.
The county overlaps with a portion of the Navajo Nation and a judge ordered districts to be redrawn to increase their representation.
Herbert said if it were up to him, he would make the county’s three commission districts at-large seats.
Proposed data center
Herbert said a potential new data center would be a significant net gain for the state, despite concerns expressed by some locals that the company behind the project remains anonymous and stands to benefit from large tax breaks.
The proposed project 40 miles south of Salt Lake City would bring investment in infrastructure to the Eagle Mountain area and expand economic growth west of the heavily populated Interstate 15 corridor, Herbert said.
The name of the company behind the proposed project has not yet been made public. Herbert said it likely would be revealed soon, since local jurisdictions this week approved tax incentives for the plan.
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