Watch: Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said he will not vote for new federal gun laws

The Utah senator argues that firearm policies should be developed at the state level.

(Brandon Bell | The New York Times file photo) Sen. Mitt Romney walks through the Senate Reception Room at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021.

Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday indicated he will not support attempts to tighten federal gun laws in the wake of recent back-to-back mass shootings, although he’s open to working with his colleagues on improving background check technology.

In a meeting with The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board, the Utah Republican said he vowed during his Senate campaign that he wouldn’t support new federal gun laws.

“I made that commitment when I ran for office, and I intend to honor that commitment,” he said. “So I will not be voting for new federal legislation related to guns and leave to the Legislature of Utah, closest to our people, any decisions they have in that regard.”

Some senators have said they see a potential open door for legislation expanding background checks in the aftermath of a pair of mass shootings, one killing eight people at several Georgia massage parlors and the other killing 10 at a Colorado supermarket. The two shootings occurred less than a week apart.

But the Democratic lawmakers who are pushing for broader background checks need help from at least a few Republican senators to move the proposal forward. And despite his willingness to work across the aisle on certain issues, Romney has made clear he’s not behind federal gun control efforts advanced by Democrats.

Romney argued it’s more appropriate for these discussions to happen at a state level. However, gun control proposals have a steep hill to climb in Utah’s conservative Legislature — which ignored a universal background check bill this year while eliminating a law that required residents to get a permit before carrying concealed weapons.

Bears Ears monument expansion

During his Monday conversation with The Tribune, Romney also expressed openness to expanding Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments through congressional action. The Biden administration is currently reviewing the boundaries of the two Utah monuments that former President Donald Trump drastically downsized.

Utah’s congressional delegation has discouraged President Joe Biden from enlarging the two monuments by executive action and has made the case that legislation alone will settle the years of debate over the sites. Otherwise, Utah senators and representatives have predicted, the size of the monuments will continue to fluctuate with changing presidential administrations.

Romney said he spoke with White House representatives last week about potential legislation that could define the monument boundaries and also perhaps create visitor or cultural centers and assign rangers to the locations.

“I, for one — and I’m sure it’s true of the other members of the delegation as well — would be open to expanding the national monument boundaries as they exist today and going much larger,” he said. “Let’s look at what’s needed.”

The proposal could also split the land into sections, each with different uses permitted in each category, he said. Some areas might be appropriate for grazing or hunting and fishing, while other spots should be completely protected because of the sensitive artifacts they contain, he said.

“I’ve encouraged the White House to consider giving us a deadline and saying, ‘Hey, you guys all come together, negotiate boundaries and land use, if you will, land management, depending upon those areas, and come up with something,” he said.

In the coming month, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will be traveling to Utah for a tour of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Following her trip, she’s expected to submit monument boundary recommendations to Biden.

GOP future

Romney also spoke about the future of his party, factions of which have condemned him as a turncoat or “deep state” agent because of his votes to impeach Trump. The senator said he believes inclusivity and acknowledgment of global warming will be key in attracting younger voters, who are turned off by climate change denial and want to see a more respectful political dialogue.

The party also needs to lift up leaders of strong character, he said, adding that he hopes the next GOP presidential contender will be a “new face.”

“I hope we have a nominee in 2024 who believes in standing up against authoritarianism,” he said. “Who believes that character really does matter in elected officials, who believes that trade with other nations on a fair basis is a good thing for America.”