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Utahns in Congress, armed or not, big gun-rights supporters

First Published Feb 10 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated May 21 2013 11:32 pm

Washington » Utah’s members of Congress are gun-loving, though only half of them are gun-toting.

As the debate continues over boosting gun control in the wake of several high-profile mass shootings, the fight mostly follows a parallel between those who own and fire guns, and those who don’t.

At a glance

Utah’s delegation: Packing or not?

Sen. Orrin Hatch » Owns several guns. Concealed-carry permit holder.

Sen. Mike Lee » Doesn’t own any firearms or hold a concealed-carry permit. Does enjoy shooting.

Rep. Jim Matheson » Doesn’t own any firearms. Does hold a concealed-carry permit.

Rep. Rob Bishop » Doesn’t own any firearms or hold a concealed-carry permit.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz » Owns one handgun, one shotgun. Concealed-carry permit holder.

Rep. Chris Stewart » Owns four firearms: Two Beretta handguns, a 30.06 rifle and 12-gauge and a 20-gauge shotguns. Has a concealed-carry permit.

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But while Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Rob Bishop and Jim Matheson may not personally have a cache of firearms at home, they still come down on the side of protecting the right to do so, something their fellow Utahns in Congress take full advantage of.

Rep. Chris Stewart has a couple of Beretta handguns, a .30-06 rifle and two different shotguns. Rep. Jason Chaffetz owns a Glock .40-caliber handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun. Sen. Orrin Hatch has "a few" handguns, a hunting rifle and a shotgun.

"For some, owning a firearm may bring a different perspective to the gun-control debate," Hatch said. "But I don’t think it’s necessary to be a gun owner to understand the importance of the Second Amendment."

But most of the time, it helps.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed that 62 percent of people who have guns in their home say that the government is a threat to their personal rights and freedoms compared with 45 percent of non-gun owners who said the same thing. The Pew poll shows that gap is growing.

"A good number of Americans own guns and are comfortable with using guns and enjoy using guns. That certainly colors their political perspective," says Michael Hammond, legislative counsel of the Springville, Va.-based Gun Owners of America.

"If you’re from New York City, where guns are banned, and you’ve never heard anything in your life other than guns are big, dirty, dangerous things that can only do harm or are killing machines … then I think you come at this from a different perspective."

Polls show about 45 percent of Americans say they own at least one gun, and Utah’s delegation largely follows the trend.

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In guns we trust » After earning the wrath of the mafia in 1982, Hatch petitioned the U.S. Marshals Service to deputize him so he could carry a firearm for protection. The service did the same 11 years later when Hatch faced death threats, but he doesn’t regularly carry a sidearm now.

After then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, Chaffetz was quick to note that he planned to carry his Glock more often when he was attending events in Utah.

"Somebody who has never had experience with a gun, who has never gone out and shot would be mystified by why someone likes this," Chaffetz says. "I feel safer with them."

Stewart says he grew up on a farm and shooting guns was just part of life. He notes that owning a gun does lend a perspective to the debate that some are lacking.

"You recognize the safety of a handgun is the individual," Stewart says.

"The weapon itself is not the enemy. The weapon itself does not go out and kill things, it’s the individual who does."

Chaffetz, Hatch and Stewart all hold Utah permits to carry concealed weapons, as does Matheson, who doesn’t own a gun.

The only Democrat in Utah’s delegation, Matheson enjoys the National Rifle Association’s top rating, like his fellow Republicans from the state, and has similarly pointed to video games as a more significant problem.

Lee, who doesn’t own a gun or hold a concealed-carry permit, says he does go shooting with friends "all the time," but that owning a gun isn’t essential to his support for the Second Amendment.

Interestingly, Bishop, who used to lobby in Utah for the NRA and the Shooting Sports Council, doesn’t own a gun, doesn’t shoot and doesn’t have a concealed-carry permit.

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