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Utah mayors divided on assault weapons ban

Published December 19, 2012 3:52 pm

U.S. group seeks ban on assault weapons; some in Utah fear "knee-jerk" bill after mass shooting.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has called on President Barack Obama and Congress to strengthen the nation's gun laws, but some Utah mayors aren't so sure that's the way to cure America's gun violence epidemic.

In its open letter Tuesday to Obama and Congress, the Conference of Mayors urged them to "take immediate action" to make at least three "reasonable changes" in gun laws:

• Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

• Strengthen the national background check system.

• Strengthen the penalties for purchases of guns from illegal sources.

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker and Park City Mayor Dana Williams do support the proposal, but the mayors of Ogden and West Valley City and the mayor-elect of Salt Lake County, like all five members of Utah's congressional delegation, aren't ready to support such proposals.

In an email Wednesday, the vacationing Becker said he is "fully supportive of the U.S. Conference of Mayors position."

"As a hunter and gun owner, I believe these are important, appropriate and responsible measures to take on behalf of public safety," he said.

But Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, who was busy Wednesday preparing for a Thursday evening public memorial for 6-year-old Emilie Parker, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., said he hasn't had time to develop a position on remedies for such tragedies.

"This just happened on Friday and I haven't had a chance to evaluate it," he said. "But I'm sure we'll have a vigorous debate on where we go with this."

Salt Lake County Mayor-elect Ben McAdams said that while he wouldn't rule out stronger gun laws, he is "hesitant to adopt any knee-jerk response" to the Newtown massacre.

"We have to take a holistic approach," McAdams said. "We need to develop tools to address the underlying aspects of all this, including mental health issues."

Strengthening of background checks and penalties for illegal purchases of guns is something West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder said he could support. But the third item on the Conference of Mayors list — a ban on assault weapons — is something that requires further consideration, he said.

"I'm not sure assault weapons is the place to draw the line," Winder said. "But we should have a national conversation ... in the wake of Newtown."

By contrast, Park City's Williams said he is "1,000 percent" behind the Conference of Mayors proposal.

His town is planning a candlelight vigil for the Sandy Hook Elementary victims 6 p.m. Thursday at Park City High School.

"I've never understood why protecting the Second Amendment means anyone can have a semi-automatic assault weapon," he said.

At the same time, Williams explained that combating gun violence in this country should be a multi-faceted endeavor that tackles mental health issues, including funding for such programs that has dwindled in past decades.

Further, he said municipal and education officials must find ways to make schools safer.

"Typically, it's the local officials who are eyeball to eyeball with these kinds of tragic circumstances," he said. "I'm thrilled there is going to be a national dialogue on these things."

csmart@sltrib.com

Gun control letter

To read the U.S. Conference of Mayors open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress urging changes to gun laws, go online to usmayors.org.