Utah’s governor says it may be time to raise the age to buy an assault rifle and limit the rounds it can fire

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Gary Herbert talks with the media during his press availability at the State capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday Feb. 15, 2018.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says he supports expanded background checks for gun purchases. He is also open to restricting the number of rounds in a magazine and even raising the legal age to buy certain high-powered semi-automatic rifles.

His comments are just the latest sign that a school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead has shifted the partisan debate of gun restrictions.

Herbert, in Washington D.C., for a National Governors Association conference, sat down for an interview Friday with Politico’s Off Message podcast, where he touted Mitt Romney’s Senate run in Utah and the state’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics.

Then the topic turned to mass shootings and gun laws. Herbert said there is no one way to solve this national problem — instead, it will be a multitude of efforts that includes a look at mental health screenings in schools and Hollywood’s glorification of violence.

While other countries see the same movies and have the same mental health problems, Herbert said the U.S. may have more mass shootings because, ”We have a lot more freedom in this country. And when you have that kind of freedom and liberty, you’re probably not as safe.”

He said some changes to gun laws at the state and federal level may be warranted.

“I certainly support better background checks: complete, comprehensive background checks to make sure that people don’t have access to guns if you’re a convicted felon, have bad behavior, or have mental problems,” Herbert said.

When asked by interviewer Isaac Dovere, the governor said he was open to raising the age at which assault rifles could be purchased from 18 to 21.

He said, “it is a little bit incongruous,” noting he was in the Army at age 19, but “maybe there’s something that says wisdom comes along, and common sense enhances as you get older.”

And when it came to limiting magazine size, the governor said: “I don’t know that there’s any reason to have anything more than a seven- or nine-shot magazine. Once you get past a typical size when you go out hunting, you’re probably having excess baggage you don’t need.”

In his monthly news conference just a few days earlier, Herbert was far more reserved, telling Utah reporters that “Utah is actually in a pretty good place when it comes to Second Amendment rights.”

He did call President Donald Trump’s effort to ban bump stocks “appropriate.” A bump stock is a device that allows semi-automatic weapons to rapidly repeat-fire simulating a fully automatic weapon and was used by the shooter who killed 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas last October.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board last week and also said there were gun laws she was ready to support.

Neither Herbert nor Love back Trump’s call to arm school teachers, and neither want to see a ban on so-called assault rifles. But like the governor, Love was open to expanded background checks and raising the age of purchase.

And both prefer that the state create these laws rather than Congress.

Utah’s legislative session has only two weeks left and while House Speaker Greg Hughes is interested in quickly considering legislation in response to the Florida mass shooting, Senate leaders are hesitant.

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