Utah lawmakers advance bill to block cities and counties from adding gun restrictions

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Cade Lightfoot, left, of Toole joins hundreds of pro gun proponents gathered at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in response to recent proposals from legislators, including red-flag laws, universal background checks and the elimination of private transfers.

Utah House lawmakers on Wednesday pushed forward a bill that would strengthen the state’s dominance over gun policy — a proposal that could unravel Salt Lake County’s recent decision on gun shows at county-owned facilities.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, said his intent is to prevent local governments from enacting a patchwork of firearms regulations that might confuse and potentially endanger gun owners.

“What we’re trying to do here is not upset the apple cart,” Maloy told members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. “What we’re trying to do is just make sure that there are no laws or ordinances that are passed that start infringing on the Second Amendment among the people of Utah.”

Gun rights advocates supported the bill, decrying local attempts to tighten firearms restrictions. Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, asked legislators whether they would stand by as these city or county officials “thumb their nose” at the state.

However, Salt Lake County representatives defended Mayor Jenny Wilson’s move to require federal background checks for all firearm purchases during gun shows at the Mountain America Expo Center.

Kimberly Barnett, associate deputy mayor of Salt Lake County, said the background check rule was part of contract negotiations over the use of a county-owned facility, arguing the legislation would interfere with this and other agreements between local leaders and the private company that operates the center.

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“We are concerned with the consequences this bill could have on other smart safety protocols we have implemented over the years with our gun shows that we believe make every one of these shows much safer,” Barnett testified.

The state has long maintained control over gun regulations, prohibiting cities and counties from imposing any rules on the ownership, possession, purchase, transfer or transport of guns. But Maloy’s bill, HB271, would empower individuals to sue local governments that violate the state preemption.

Organizations representing the state’s counties and cities also argued the bill could cause problems by preventing local governments from keeping guns out of homeless shelters or transitional facilities. Several members of the committee agreed that the proposal might need some tweaks but said these changes could be made when the bill is debated by the full House.

The committee vote was 7-3.