Is House Bill 328 helpful or hypocritical?

The proposal making its way through the Utah Legislature would allow someone who is legally intoxicated to use a weapon in self-defense while in their home.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said he sponsored the legislation at the request of Utah defense attorneys. It addresses one of the “unintended consequences” that arose last year when the Legislature approved HB155, Thurston’s bill lowering the state’s blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for drunken driving from 0.08 to 0.05.

The American Beverage Institute argues the bill is hypocritical, since the new drunken driving law forbids driving a car at the 0.05 level.

To drive home the point, the national lobbying group published a full-page advertisement — with the headline “Too Drunk to Drive, But Sober Enough to Carry a .45?” — in Tuesday’s Salt Lake Tribune.

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“Thurston and other lawmakers who support his proposal can’t have it both ways,” Sarah Longwell, ABI’s managing director, said Monday. “If someone is sober enough to carry a gun at 0.05, they should also be able to drive without the risk of jail time, $10,000 in fines and penalties, hiked insurance rates, and the social stigma of being labeled a drunk driver.”

Longwell said ABI is not against HB328, but rather the hypocrisy. “Our point is you should be allowed to drive at 0.05, because you are not meaningfully impaired.”

The new ad is the latest strike in ABI’s war against the DUI law, which — should it take effect Dec. 30 as planned — will be the toughest drunken driving law in the nation.

Since the Utah law was passed and signed by the governor, the group has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars placing full-page ads in Utah, Idaho and Nevada newspapers, as well as USA Today.

ABI would like to see the law repealed. But it also is supporting HB345, sponsored by Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, which would delay Utah’s 0.05 blood alcohol arrest level until 2022.

Last week, during his monthly news conference, Gov. Gary Herbert said the law will stand without major changes

Thurston says the ABI is twisting the intent of his weapons bill.

“Their characterization of HB328 is not right,” he told The Tribune in a telephone interview. “It does not allow an intoxicated person to carry a .45. It allows them to use a dangerous weapon for self-defense.”

It currently is a class B misdemeanor for anyone to use a dangerous weapon while under the influence of alcohol. But if you have been consuming alcohol at home and think someone is breaking into your home, Thurston said, “the bill allows you to defend yourself and your family.”

Thurston said when the drunken driving law passed last year, he promised to meet and address any unintended consequences. Four groups approached him, and this year he has sponsored a bill to address each of their concerns. In addition to HB328, the others are:

HB98, which removes the novice driver category from state code.

HB120, which addresses server liability.

HB397, which allows for a limited license for certain individuals convicted of a first-time DUI offense.

“These four bills were requested by people who raised concerns,” he said. “I’ve carried one bill for each of them.”

Thurston said, “I’m not saying I support them” and he doesn’t guarantee passage, but he felt it important that they at least get their day in the Legislature.

”I’m just keeping my promise to all of those stakeholders that wanted tweaks to the law,” he said. “Being called out for keeping my promise is disingenuous.”