In the days after a gunman slaughtered 17 people at a Florida high school, with the blood still staining the hallways and students rallying for gun control, the Utah Legislature created a task force to study the issue of violence in schools.
“This is an emergency. This is a circumstance whose time has come to take action,” Rep. Michael Kennedy, a physician and lawyer who spearheaded the effort, said at the unveiling of the Utah School Safety Commission.
If you were under the notion that any action might include a serious look at gun laws in a state that routinely receives a failing grade from gun control advocacy groups, you probably haven’t been paying attention to how things work in Utah.
Over the weekend, Kennedy was on Twitter, posing for photos and touting a meeting he had with the owners of the UtahGunExchange.com.
“We need leaders who will uphold our rights and ensure freedom for future generations,” he said.
As a refresher, the Utah Gun Exchange is the outfit that organized the counterprotest that drew about 1,000 people to the Utah Capitol to counter the 8,000 people who turned out for the March for Our Lives.
In a middle finger to the snowflakes, they even had the unimaginably poor taste to bring out their military-style vehicle with a turret mounted on the top for their show of force.
The Gun Exchange is also the go-to place for anyone who has a domestic violence conviction or has been diagnosed as being mentally ill or has a felony conviction and wants to get, say, an AR-15 and a bump stock or a .50-caliber sniper rifle without all the hassle of a background check.
It’s outfits like this one exploiting the private sale loophole that allow the National Rifle Association to say with a straight face that new gun laws won’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
That’s the type of leaders Kennedy thinks need to uphold our rights.
All of that should provide context for where Kennedy is coming from when he said in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune last week that the recommendations from the Utah School Safety Commission will absolutely not infringe on the Second Amendment.
When he announced the panel’s formation, Kennedy said it would look at mental health, architecture and technology. Asked specifically whether it would address firearms, he flat-out refused to answer.
It’s also worth noting that Kennedy is one of a handful of Republicans vying for the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate. In order to do that, he needs to run well to the right of party favorite Mitt Romney, and using the safety commission as a gun-rights platform is a great way to do that and, as a bonus, stay in the good graces of the NRA.
In case there was still any question where this commission is headed, its membership also includes Clark Aposhian, the chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council and the state’s highest-profile gun lobbyist.
Given its makeup, it’s hard to imagine the commission will give serious consideration to ideas like holding parents liable when their children get ahold of a negligently stored firearm, or raising the legal age to purchase a weapon, or requiring safety training for young people to own a gun, or banning bump stocks, or adopting “extreme risk protective orders” that would allow a court to order people deemed to be an imminent threat to themselves or others to turn over their firearms — an idea that was defeated by pro-gun Republicans last session.
But there needs to be a serious dialogue of the role of firearms when it comes to teen violence, and that can’t take place as long as people like Kennedy — and for that matter Aposhian — appear to have a vested interest in quashing the discussion.
Correction: April 8, 12:35 p.m. >> An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the owners of UtahGunExchange.com as the founders of that company.