ST. GEORGE — From universal background checks to firearm storage, a handful of gun-related bills have recently been introduced in Utah’s 2020 legislative session.
Universal background checks for firearm purchases
Currently, under Utah law, individuals can privately sell a gun to someone else without a background check. House Bill 109, authored by Rep. Brian S. King, D-Salt Lake City, would require background checks for all gun sale transactions; exceptions would be made for firearms transferred between family members or those handed over to law enforcement agencies, among other circumstances.
In order to transfer ownership of a firearm legally under HB 109, private parties would have to involve a “federal firearms licensee” who can provide the necessary paperwork and background check for “a reasonable fee.”
Individuals who forego the background check requirement would be subject to a class A misdemeanor on the first offense, which would then be elevated to a felony-level offense for any additional violations. If multiple guns are sold without a background check in a single instance, each gun counts as its own individual violation.
Gun owner liability
House Bill 115, proposed by Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, would hold gun owners liable for damage or injury caused by another individual’s use of the firearm. Referred as a “firearm custodian” in the bill, this individual would be held liable if they knowingly, or should have known, that the person they were supplying the gun to was an “unfit individual.”
An unfit individual under HB 115 is classified as a person who is prohibited from having a gun, such as a felon; someone with a history of committing dangerous acts; who may be mentally or physically incapacitated; or is a minor.
Allowing the unfit individual to access a firearm by not properly storing it or leaving it in plain sight is also seen as a cause for liability under the bill.
A gun owner may defend themselves by providing evidence they had no reason to believe the person they allowed to use the gun would cause harm or injury to others.
Negligent firearm storage and minors
Under the proposed House Bill 136, a person could face a class B misdemeanor if they allow easy access to a firearm to a minor or otherwise restricted individual by not securely storing it.
Introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Wright, D-Salt Lake City, who proposed a similar bill last year, HB 136 would require that a gun owner keep it securely encased in a locked case, container, safe, lock box or other means that requires a key, combination or similar mechanism to open said storage device. The gun should also be rendered inoperable through the use of a firearm safety device of some sort while being stored, unless it is readily accessible by the owner for use.
HB 136 would also make it unlawful to store a gun in a spot that the gun owner “knows or has a reason to the believe” a minor or restricted individual knows about and has possible access.
The class B misdemeanor comes into play if the minor or restricted person harms another person using the gun. It would also be a class C misdemeanor under HB 136 for a firearms dealer to sell a gun without a label warning of the storage requirements.
Firearm identification and property management restricting firearms
Senate Bill 33, proposed by Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, would make it a third-degree felony to alter or remove identifying marks on a firearm. It would also make it a felony to own a firearm that has had its identifying marks altered or removed — currently a class A misdemeanor offense under Utah law.
House Bill 149, from Rep. A. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, would prohibit a residential property management authority from infringing on a resident’s right to carry or possess a gun for self-defense inside an area where the resident has exclusive control, like their apartment.
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Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here.
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