Although Utahns normally are strident protectors of gun rights, Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that the time has arrived to set tighter parameters on them to help prevent school shootings — and ticked off a list of possible steps.
Also at his monthly press conference on KUED-TV, he issued a call for zero tolerance of sexual harassment — and punishment for it — after a former president of the LDS Missionary Training Center this week acknowledged sexual misconduct in the 1980s when officials did little to pursue a victim’s claims.
Herbert also called on Republicans to stop vicious infighting, and accept a court decision that this week upheld a 2014 election law allowing candidates to qualify for the ballot by gathering signatures — not just by using the GOP’s favored caucus-convention system. That law divides GOP conservatives and moderates.
As the national and local March for Our Lives approaches on Saturday, the governor praised young people for “getting involved and mobilizing. They are saying, ‘Let our voices be heard’” on-gun control issues.
“Utah has been a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but that does not mean there are not parameters” that should be placed to improve safety, he said.
He listed several possible steps.
Background checks for gun purchases “should be universal,” Herbert said, and not exclude such things as private sales at gun shows.
The governor suggested looking at raising the age for gun purchases — now set at 18 unless accompanied by a parent — and eliminating the “bump stocks” used in the recent Las Vegas mass shooting to essentially turn a semi-automatic gun into a rapid-fire automatic one. (Last year, Herbert signed legislation to allow Utahns as young as 18 to obtain a concealed-weapons permit.)
“We want to make sure that those who should not have guns don’t have them,” including perhaps revisiting a bill killed in this year’s Legislature that would have allowed seizing guns from people deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.
The governor said such power must be carefully balanced with the civil rights of gun owners, but it is worth exploring to try to achieve that balance.
“I’m interested in doing something that actually creates a positive result, not just a feel-good thing, but something that actually makes a difference. So let’s have the discussion and see if we can’t find common ground,” he said.
He noted that a commission with school superintendents and others from around the state is looking at school safety, and he expects a report and recommendations soon. The state will likely funnel money to local schools to take steps they want, he said.
Herbert expects changes will include limiting entrance to schools to a single point, where those who enter face “some kind of interview process” and “we may end up with putting metal detectors in there.”
He adds, “Some school districts may say we need to have, in fact, law enforcement patrolling the halls.”
He said he would consider a special session to address the issue if needed.
When asked about stories about sexual misconduct at the LDS Missionary Training Center, Herbert said, “We ought to have zero — I’m talking about zero — tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment, any kind of making people feel uncomfortable in their work environment.”
He added, “Anybody who has a complaint ought to feel comfortable in bringing it forward to the appropriate authority … and then know it’s going to be investigated. If there is a violation of the law, then people ought to be punished and prosecuted.”
The governor said he knows little about details of the case, but noted the misconduct occurred in the 1980s. “Maybe we’ve learned some things in that time so we don’t have that happen” again.
Former MTC President Joseph L. Bishop, now 85, acknowledged to Provo Police that he asked a young female missionary to bare her breasts, and said she did. The woman says he raped her, and that officials did not pursue complaints she made.
Herbert, a Republican, also called for his political party to stop vicious infighting over a new election law, called SB54, that allows candidates to qualify for the primary ballot by collecting signatures and/or the traditional caucus-convention system.
Conservatives, who tend to dominate conventions, favor them — and pushed the party to fight the law. But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Utah’s election law this week, as did two earlier court decisions.
“I am really disappointed we have this divisiveness in the Republican Party. I think it’s not healthy. I don’t think it’s good for the future of the Republican Party. I don’t think it’s good for policymaking in the state of Utah,” Herbert said.
He said attacks on SB54 come from “a minority group of people who are very loud and strident.”
The governor defended SB54 as “a good compromise” that preserved the caucus-convention system and halted a ballot initiative that likely would have erased it and used a direct primary instead.
He urged conservatives to accept the court ruling this week, and stop the court battle. “Do we want to continue to fight against each other and spend money that is unnecessary?”