Florida school shooting survivors find new venue for Utah town hall after movie theater cancels

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Participants march from West High School to the state Capitol during the March for Our Lives SLC Saturday, March 24, 2018. The student-led March for Our Lives SLC got underway about 11:30 a.m. with what police estimated were 8,000 participants walking from Salt Lake City’s West High School to the front steps of the state Capitol.

A day after a Utah movie theater abruptly pulled out of hosting a town hall with the survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, the students have booked a new location for the Saturday event.

The March For Our Lives “Road to Change” event will now be held at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on July 14, according to a post on the local March for Our Lives Facebook page. The event is one of many to feature the Florida students, who are traveling across the country this summer to promote and discuss gun reform alongside students in local March for Our Lives chapters.

Organizers scrambled to find a new venue Wednesday after officials at the Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theatres — part of the Larry H. Miller Group, which also owns car dealerships and the Utah Jazz — canceled the event about 24 hours after students announced the location in South Jordan. Movie theater officials said they didn’t know the “full context” of the event before booking it and that it now “appears to be escalating into a potentially contentious situation."

The cancellation followed a recent Salt Lake Tribune article, which told the story of how the Utah Gun Exchange, a local firearms business, has been following the Florida students' tour across the country in an armored, military-style vehicle.

In the aftermath of the cancellation, the Utah Gun Exchange, which led a pro-gun rally ahead of Salt Lake City’s March for Our Lives rally last spring, offered its venue to organizers.

The students said they settled on the expo center because officials there complied with students’ request for the event to be gun-free because of “legitimate safety concerns.”

Utah Gun Exchange, according to the release, offered increased security at its venue, but “has not offered to make their event space gun-free.”

Representatives for the business also met with March for Our Lives members Wednesday and characterized the meeting as “successful.”

In the March for Our Lives SLC press release, students appeared to distance themselves from the group, which has been vocal critics of their efforts, and question its motives.

“We would also like to remind the media and all involved parties that Utah Gun Exchange is not a nonprofit organization like the National Rifle Association, or a legislative advocacy group like Utah Shooting Sports Council. Utah Gun Exchange is a business,” the statement said. “We are not obligated to mold our movement for gun reform and public safety around the desires of a business whose financial success could be negatively influenced by our legislative goals.”

The group said it hopes to work with legislators and others to craft laws to address gun issues, adding that members are particularly excited the event will be held within U.S. Rep. Mia Love’s district.

Love, March For Our Lives SLC said in its statement, is a leading recipient of donations from gun-rights lobbyists. In fact, the Utah Republican received $63,520 from gun lobbyists during the 2016 election cycle, according to a Politico analysis of Center For Responsive Politics data. That’s the sixth most of all House of Representatives members, with Love tallying about $10,000 more than California Rep. Kevin McCarthy and about $5,000 less than Nevada Rep. Joe Heck. Both representatives are Republicans.

Love’s campaign disputes the amount of money the database says she received, saying the numbers are speculative and misleading because they count donations from people who support gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association and do not provide the underlying data of those donors.

A spokesman from the center has told The Salt Lake Tribune that it includes in the tally people who have given at least $200 to an interest group like the NRA and then donated to a candidate. Love has received $3,000 from the NRA.

The 6 p.m. event is open to the public, although space is limited. One thousand priority tickets are available.