ST. GEORGE — While a number of firearms bills were introduced at the start of the legislative session this year, none of them got very far.
While Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, introduced a bill late in the session that would allow the permitless conceal carry of firearms in the state, that bill was introduced as a way to garner support running up to the 2021 legislative session. Brooks had no intention of it moving forward this year.
Unlike Brooks’ bill, those below were introduced with the hope they would become law this year. That journey didn’t go far as the bills had a very short trip. Some bills didn’t pass a House committee, while one passed the House floor, yet went unheard in the Senate.
The general session of the Utah Legislature began in January and ended Thursday at midnight.
Universal background checks for firearm purchases
Currently, under Utah law, individuals can privately sell a gun to someone else without running a background check. HB 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 were to be sold without a background check in a single instance, each gun would count as its own individual violation.
King’s bill was heard in a House committee in late February, but it was subsequently tabled.
Gun owner liability
HB 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; someone who may be mentally or physically incapacitated; or 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 would be able to 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.
Stoddard’s bill was defeated in a House committee in a 7-3 vote on Feb. 24.
Negligent firearm storage and minors
Under the proposed HB 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, lockbox or other means that require 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 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.
Wright’s bill was tabled in a committee hearing on Feb. 20.
Firearm identification and property management restricting firearms
SB 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.
Mayne’s bill stalled in the Senate’s rules committee.
HB 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. The bill did not make it to the House or the Senate.
Another bill sponsored by Maloy, HB 271, Firearm Preemption Amendments, would have kept counties and municipalities from enacting their own gun laws. While it passed the House, the bill was not heard in the Senate.
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Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here.
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