In the collective mind of the Utah Legislature's Republican majority, it is no big deal for a child to see someone waving a gun outside his or her school classroom. But if that same child sees a bartender pouring an alcoholic drink at a restaurant, the damage could be permanent.
That strange and mysterious collective mind also is aghast at the idea of a school buffer zone where openly carried weapons would be prohibited but favors a prohibition of restaurants that serve alcohol within 200 feet of a school or church.
The 2011 Legislature, on a party-line vote, did away with a 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools so that gun owners could openly display weapons, with proponents of the legislation arguing that the Second Amendment right to possess a firearm cannot be abridged.
The only Republican in the Senate to vote against the bill was Lyle Hillyard, who asked during the floor debate if it was OK for someone to be waving an AK-47 outside a school classroom. The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, answered, "Pretty much."
When Hillyard said his grandchildren would "freak out" if they saw someone carrying a gun outside their school, then-Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said he didn't understand Hillyard's reasoning.
But Buttars, along with most of his Republican colleagues, voted for legislation requiring bartenders in restaurants to mix alcoholic drinks behind a barricade so diners couldn't see the dirty deed. The logic was that children would want to drink if they saw the pouring take place, even though they could see the drink once it is taken to a table.
Many of the same legislators who supported the repeal of a school buffer zone for guns voted for a bill in 2008 that barred restaurants from serving alcohol if they were within 200 feet of a school or church, even if there was no community opposition to the restaurant having a liquor license.
Opponents of that bill said it hurt economic development, while proponents said it was designed to curb underage drinking.
Behind closed doors • The sentiments of the National Rifle Association-tethered Utah congressional delegation against any restrictions on semiautomatic assault rifles or 30-round ammunition clips remind me of a story involving Rep. Rob Bishop when he was the speaker of the Utah House.
An elementary school class had gone to the Legislature several times, in front of TV cameras, to lobby for a bill that would enhance punishments for someone whose negligent storage of firearms led to the accidental death or injury of a child.
That put the Republicans in the Legislature in a bind. They didn't want to be seen voting against a bill to protect children, but they didn't want to vote for a bill that would anger gun-rights lobbyists.
The solution: The Senate would pass it and it would die in the House Rules Committee. Deals like that are not uncommon.
But the kids were persistent. They were on television so much the House Rules Committee had to let it out for a vote near the end of the session. But that wasn't a problem either. Bishop, the speaker, just didn't put the bill on the board for a vote until very late on the last night, ensuring the session would come to a close before it came to a vote.
Bishop later got a job as a paid lobbyist for a gun-rights organization.
Safety first • All the talk about how more people carrying guns will make us all safer reminds me of another incident a few years ago in the Utah Senate. One of the concealed weapon permit holders in the Senate had a momentary coordination problem on the Senate floor, and his gun came tumbling out of its concealed place and bounced onto the floor.
That should make everyone observing Senate action feel just that much safer.