A bill that would remove law enforcement’s ability to cite a person for disorderly conduct while openly carrying a holstered handgun or encased rifle passed through the house easily Thursday morning and now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, argued HB268 wasn’t a gun bill but was instead a way for a person to exercise Second Amendment rights without worries police would simply charge them for walking around with a gun.
"It’s not this big gun bill that radically changes everything," Ray said.
But Ray also argued it gave law enforcement "teeth" to cite some who have openly carried semi-automatic assault rifles not in a case and openly visible while slung over a shoulder in a store.
"If you decide to make a political statement and strap an AR-15 [rifle] on your back and go shopping, there is a very good likelihood you’ll be cited for disorderly conduct," Ray said. He said recent images of people at committee hearings on Utah’s Capitol Hill with gun rights advocates propping rifles against chairs near children angered him and said his bill wouldn’t protect people acting that way from facing disorderly conduct charges.
"I saw the picture — he had it sitting next to a child — which just irritates me," Ray said.
The measure passed 54-12 largely along party lines.
Rep. Derek Brown, R-Cottonwood Heights, had voted against the original bill while it was in committee but amended it on the floor to include language that brought back the term "reasonable person" who may be worried about seeing guns carried out in the open.
Brown said the term allows for some flexibility to still stop a person bearing firearms and ask questions.
"No one is 100 percent in love with the bill after this amendment," Brown said. "When everyone walks away from the result and everyone is just a little bit less than happy I think we probably have a good agreement — particularly on an issue where we have to thread the needle."
Ray said it took six hours of "intense" negotiations.
"I thought there was no way this was going to happen. There is no way this is coming together," Ray said. "We did a lot of shouting at each other — lots of yelling and storming in and out of the meeting and finally — some language."
The bill, which actually got its start in the last legislative session, remains clear that law enforcement are not allowed to bring disorderly conduct charges against someone merely for carrying a firearm openly. Additional behavior must be exhibited for police to arrest on that charge.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Ray’s bill was an attempt to use legislation to socially condition people to not feel uncomfortable with guns being carried out in the open.
"It seems to me what we’re doing is moving in the direction of trying to — by legislative act — to increase the comfort level of citizens in the state of Utah with openly carrying — although holstered, nevertheless openly carrying visible firearms," King said. "I think that’s folly."
But House Majority Leader Brad Dee disagreed.
"The opportunity to bear and keep arms — is that social engineering?" Dee asked. "It’s in our Constitution."
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