Gun law reform advocates in Utah said they expect more than rhetoric from the state’s elected officials, several of whom expressed sorrow over recent shootings in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Gilroy, Calif.
“There is no reason that daily mass shootings should be the new normal,” said Chase Thomas, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah. “Countries across the globe have been showing us there are solutions. ... What we demand is leaders who will make sure that action is taken.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, released a statement Sunday encouraging a serious, thorough and fact-based conversation on gun violence. Other Utah elected leaders also issued remarks.
“This will require courage and a willingness from all sides to find areas of consensus, instead of retreating to partisan corners," Romney said. “I am determined to be a constructive voice in that endeavor."
But that will require Romney and Sen. Mike Lee to “stand up to Mitch McConnell,” said Thomas, who joined about two dozen Utah gun reform advocates in a news conference criticizing what they characterized as inaction by Republican U.S. Senate leadership on bills already passed by the House of Representatives. Activists called for federal laws requiring universal background checks, increased funding for gun violence research and a renewed ban on assault-style rifles.
“We’re halfway there,” said Nancy Halden, chairperson of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah. "Two of these bills have passed the House, and the Senate has sat on universal background checks for six months.
“It’s simply our politicians who won’t do this.”
Anna Penner, a recent graduate of West High School in Salt Lake City and spokeswoman for March for Our Lives Utah, said that gun violence “is a matter of whether we can live freely.”
“We have voted for representatives to advocate for us. It is time for Utah senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney to do their jobs,” Penner said.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday that politicians, parents and society at large should act in response to mass shootings like those that occurred over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
The “horrific” events are difficult to comprehend, he said, and add to the impetus for ongoing policy conversations around mental health, counseling and gun possession.
“We all have a role to play in this,” Herbert said, “families raising our children, teachers in schools and education, government leaders, business leaders, all of us pulling together to see what we can do to make the atmosphere better.”
Herbert offered those remarks shortly after his office ordered that U.S. and Utah flags be flown at half-staff until sunset Thursday in honor of the victims.
Private property owners are encouraged to follow suit by flying flags at half-staff for the same period of time, according to a prepared statement from the governor’s office.
“Our hearts are heavy as we reflect on the hateful and cruel violence that rocked our nation this weekend,” Herbert said. “As Utahns, we grieve with all those who have lost loved ones in these senseless and vile shootings, and we pray for the recovery of the wounded.”
President Donald Trump addressed the shootings during televised remarks Monday. The attacks were “barbaric," he said, while calling for the death penalty against perpetrators of hate crimes and mass shootings, and urging bipartisan cooperation on so-called “red flag” laws, in which a person’s weapons can be confiscated under court order if they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
“We vow to act with urgent resolve,” Trump said.
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, has sponsored a red-flag bill during the past two state legislative sessions. The bill received a House committee hearing during its first year but failed to advance to the full House. On Handy’s second attempt earlier this year — and following its implied endorsement by a school safety panel — the bill fared even worse, failing to reach the standing committee stage of the legislative process.
Handy said Monday that he will run the bill again during the upcoming 2020 session.
“Very unfortunately and regrettably," Handy said, “it might take something like this [weekend’s shootings] to get it over the finish line.”
Halden applauded the measure, noting that suicide and domestic violence homicide are the two most common types of gun fatalities in Utah.
“This gets guns away from people in those circumstances,” she said.
Asked about red-flag legislation, Herbert said the state has had and will continue to have a serious conversation about it and other areas of potential legislation.
“Sometimes these [bills] take some time to get to a point where everybody can feel comfortable that you’re not violating people’s constitutional and civil rights,” Herbert said. “But, yes, I think it’s something we need to continue to pursue.”
Herbert noted that the state this year appropriated tens of millions of dollars toward school counseling and facility upgrades in an effort to better identify and providing help to at-risk youths.
“It does appear that a lot of these killings are done by young people,” Herbert said. “I think counseling and early intervention can help us stem some of that wanton disregard for life.”
Another Utah lawmaker, Salt Lake City Democratic Rep. Brian King, tweeted Saturday that he planned to sponsor a bill based on recent legislation in New Mexico that imposes universal background checks for gun purchases.
“#ElPaso reinforces the need for us to take action,” King wrote.