Utah GOP lawmakers praise sheriffs’ stand on gun rights
Legislature • Democratic leader questions whether focus on gun rights eclipses other constitutional rights.
Published: January 30, 2013 07:49AM
Updated: May 5, 2013 11:33PM
Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Rep. Paul Ray shares a laugh with members of the Utah Sheriffs' Association, which recently sent a controversial letter to President Barack Obama saying Utah law enforcement officials would lay down their lives to protect the Constitution. At the request of Rep. Curt Oda, Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker read the letter to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee of the Legislature at the State Capitol Complex House Building, Tuesday January 29, 2013.

Rep. Curt Oda asked a signatory to the Utah Sheriffs’ Association to read aloud that group’s letter to President Barack Obama during a committee hearing Tuesday that declared it would stop any attempts by federal agents to seize guns from Utah residents.

Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker read the letter that said the group of 28 of 29 county sheriffs — in defense of the Second Amendment — were “prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation.”

Oda, a Republican from Clearfield, said he expected the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee would support the “courage” of the letter that drew unabashed support from about 1,500 who gathered on the Capitol Steps Jan. 19 for Gun Appreciation Day while drawing derision from Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.

“I can almost recite it by heart,” said Oda, known for his vocal support of gun rights.

But Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig said she simply couldn’t back the letter’s message.

Seelig, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, was at Trolley Square Feb. 12, 2007, when a gunman entered the mall and killed five people while wounding four others. She was getting her nails done at a salon when she heard the gunshots and had to hide in a storage closet before a swat team killed Sulejman Talovic during the young man’s shooting spree.

Seelig made mention of her experience at Trolley Square — making sure to thank the sheriff for doing his job and specifically thanking the police at the massacre.

But she felt the letter went too far.

“I am curious about other constitutional rights and how that would fit into your weighing of this issue — like property rights and the supremacy clause,” Seelig said.

But Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said he was grateful for the sheriffs’ stance on guns.

“That was a risk on your part and I appreciate it,” Ray said.

The issue of firearms is expected to be a hot issue this legislative session in the wake of Obama’s proposals to require tougher background checks, reduce magazine capacity on guns and ban assault weapons.

There is a measure being proposed to make Utah just one of a handful of so-called constitutional carry states where a concealed weapon permit isn’t needed to be in possession of a gun. And a freshman lawmaker, Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, will introduce a bill that would grant sheriffs the ability to arrest federal authorities attempting to take guns from Utah residents.

The letter, in fact, warns that “no federal official will be permitted to descend upon our constituents and take from them what the Bill of Rights — in particular Amendment II — has given them.”

But Dekker was less confrontational in front of the committee.

“We’re not going to be standing at the border with our rifles,” he said.

Obama’s proposals, which would require congressional approval to take effect, do not call for a retroactive ban or confiscation of firearms that are currently legal.


Twitter: @davemontero