In a sudden reversal, Utah Senate leaders join the House in pushing guns and school security bills in the waning days of the legislative session

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate President Wayne Niederhauser had a change of heart over the weekend. On Friday he was urging delay on gun- and school-safety legislation, saying lawmakers would be better off "letting the issue die down" after the Florida school shooting. Monday he was on board with the House to take quick action before the Legislature adjourns. Feb. 26, 2018.

In an abrupt turnabout, Utah Senate Republicans have joined House members in calling for fast action to improve security in schools and consider a proposal that could allow for seizure of guns from mentally unstable people before the end of the legislative session next week.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, changed his position from last week, when he doubted there was enough time for lawmakers to take on gun policy and warned that it would be better “letting the issue die down” after the Florida school shooting. He and other senators said they preferred taking the 10 months between legislative sessions to study the issue and consider new laws in 2019.

That was in contrast to the House, where members led by Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, are working on a proposal that would create what are known in other states as “gun-violence restraining orders” (GVROs).

Gov. Gary Herbert, meanwhile, was in Washington. In a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and other governors Monday, the Utah governor echoed Senate candidate Mitt Romney to say that states should take the lead on protecting schoolkids and curbing gun violence.

“Each state is going to have to find their own way, based on their own culture, based on their own politics, based on their own unique demographics,” Herbert said.

Niederhauser said Monday that lawmakers should consider a new push to allow a court to temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns and called for increasing security at schools.

“It’s an idea that we should address,” Niederhauser said Monday. “I don’t know all the details, so it’s hard for me to say yea or nay, but I think it’s a great discussion; let’s talk about it with the House” this session.

“I’m also working on a proposal, too, to increase the security at our schools,” he added. “There’s already armed security at many schools. But we need to talk about getting it at all our schools.”

He said he’s meeting with school groups this week to discuss his proposal, which he added wouldn’t involve arming teachers, as Trump has suggested.

“Let them teach,” he said, “and then let’s provide the security at the schools so they don’t have to feel like they have to carry a gun around.”

Herbert seemed to strike a similar tone.

“We have some states that are doing things with arming personnel inside the school system that they seem to think is working well. I know I’m working with my Legislature, as recently as last night, in talking about what is the cost for education,” Herbert said in the White House discussion with reporters.

“Some of this is, in fact, embedding law enforcement, trained personnel in whatever form or fashion you want, is going to be at additional cost.”

The sudden momentum on the issue shows the power of the gun-control and school-safety debates that have ensued in the days since a gunman used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 14 students and three adults in a Florida high school. Niederhauser last week said state money for schools isn’t earmarked and districts could hire security if they wanted.

The latest movement on Utah’s Capitol Hill also comes after news reports surfaced Friday evening that LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson had criticized, during a Las Vegas speech, laws “that allow guns to go to people who shouldn’t have them.”

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, is working with Reps. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, and Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, on a bill that several other states have passed, allowing certain people to petition a court for a restriction on guns in limited circumstances. Handy said he’s spoken with gun-rights lobbyists, who told him they could support it depending on the language.

“It has to be due process,” Handy said.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said, depending on the details, such a law could pick up support before lawmakers must finish their work at midnight March 8.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott last week called for raising the legal age to buy guns to 21 and banning an accessory known as a bump stock that Stephen Paddock used when he shot hundreds of concertgoers from a hotel window in Las Vegas, killing 58, before also killing himself. Scott also called for money for more school security.

Herbert said it might be time to consider all of those measures, a limit on the size of gun magazines and strict background checks for purchasing weapons.

Trump, for his part, seemed more than happy to let states take the lead — especially on the issue of school security.

“This is largely a state issue, in terms of that school’s security. And, in many cases, it’s a local issue,” the president said. “You know, in many cases, you don’t even need approval from the state. You can go in as a school district and do what you have to do for the safety of your children. So my attitude is: Get it done, and get it done properly.”

He did suggest — without any details — that federal financial aid would be available.

“We’re there to help, and we’ll help monetarily — which is very important, because a lot of the school budgets, especially, they don’t have the money,” Trump said. “But the federal government can help out.”

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