Despite push by lawmakers, ‘Second Amendment sanctuary’ won’t be on Utah’s special session agenda

Gov. Spencer Cox declined to place legislation on list of bills

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City in January 2021. She's in favor of Second Amendment Santuary status for Utah.

[Update: Second Amendment sanctuary won’t be considered during this week’s legislative special session]

Lawmakers will meet Wednesday in special session, primarily so they can accept more than $1.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief money.

But a gun rights issue did not make it onto the agenda.

This is despite significant lobbying to persuade Gov. Spencer Cox to include a bill declaring Utah a “Second Amendment sanctuary” on the agenda for next week.

The idea would allow the state to ignore new federal laws or regulations on firearms that lawmakers believe violate the Second Amendment, which affords people the right to bear arms. It could extend to judicial rulings or executive actions by the White House.

Experts say even if lawmakers passed such a bill, it would be mostly symbolic because federal law trumps any state provision.

“The state has no authority under the constitution to eliminate a provision of federal law,” says University of Utah law professor RoNell Jones. “The Supremacy Clause makes clear that if state law and federal law conflict, federal law prevails.”

States have leeway over how they use their own resources to help, or not help, in the enforcement of federal law. But that does not extend to individual citizens.

“A person who is running afoul of a particular federal law will still be in violation of that law, even if the state makes some statement opposing it. All of the relevant federal agencies will still be able to enforce the law against those citizens, and no declaration from the state can invalidate that law. The constitution does not give them that authority,” she said.

The bill is championed by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield.

“I hope it’s on the call,” said Lisonbee via an email to The Tribune. “Utah needs to join the many other states that have passed Second Amendment Sanctuary bills over the past few years.”

The drivers

Lisonbee did not provide any specifics on what her proposed legislation would do.

Gov. Cox’s office would not comment directly on the legislation.

Utah legislators appear to be hitting the gas on expanding gun rights in the state. Earlier this year, Cox signed a bill eliminating the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in public. That effort was stymied for nearly a decade by Cox’s predecessor, Gov. Gary Herbert, through vetos or threats of veto.

Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, tried to pass legislation earlier this year to make the state a haven for the Second Amendment. That effort died after Republicans in the Senate decided the permitless carry bill was the priority as they looked to avoid a backlash from voters.

What others are doing

Maloy previously said lawmakers planned to study the issue over the summer and fall before bringing a bill to the 2022 session.

Lisonbee did not explain why she believed the issue was so urgent that she wanted it to be considered in a special session rather than wait for the 2022 General Session.

At least 10 Utah counties have taken steps to declare themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries, and nearly a half-dozen others are moving in that direction.

Lawmakers in Texas are currently debating several bills that would prohibit state agencies and local governments from enforcing new federal laws on guns. A bill in Ohio rejects federal gun legislation in the name of state’s rights under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.