Utah GOP leaders will again tackle critical race theory, gun rights

Central Republican committee members will debate resolutions on the controversial topics.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) House Republicans confer around House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, after Democrats walked out before a resolution on critical race theory was debated at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City in May 2021.

Not content to let the Utah Legislature and state school board weigh in on critical race theory, the Utah GOP will consider a resolution this weekend calling for its ban, even though the curriculum is not taught anywhere in the state.

Republicans will also offer another resolution in support of making Utah a “Second Amendment” sanctuary.

Utah lawmakers in May passed a quartet of toothless resolutions expressing their preferences for how Utah schools should address race in education and their intent to pass legislation next year that would allow the state to ignore federal gun laws. The resolutions came after Gov. Spencer Cox rebuffed pressure from Republicans in the Legislature who asked him to add the topics to the agenda of the May special session.

Utah is one of several Republican-controlled states wading into how race and history are taught in schools.

Last week, the Utah Board of Education crafted rules about what teachers can and cannot say to students about ethnicity, inclusion and race.

On Saturday, the Utah Republican Party’s State Central Committee, the governing body of the party, will take up both issues.

The critical race theory proposal puts the party on record as opposed to the teaching of the concept as “un-American, societally destructive, and irreconcilable with American Human Rights and Equality [sic] under the law.” It also claims the subject “insults and demeans Americans of color by teaching they are less intelligent and capable to succeed.”

Critical race theory was developed by a Harvard law professor in the 1970s who examined how race and the law interact. The framework maintains that patterns of racism in the law and other institutions have harmed Black people and other racial minorities and the legacy of slavery and segregation has disadvantaged Black people and other people of color.

The issue moved into the public consciousness after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer. The Atlantic reports that after the killing, and the resulting protests and violence, Fox News invoked the subject in at least 150 broadcasts.

Brandon Beckham, the sponsor of the resolution, declined to comment unless certain conditions were met. The Salt Lake Tribune did not agree.

The second resolution on the agenda pushes Utah’s GOP-dominated Legislature to declare the state a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” which would block the state from enforcing “overreaching federal firearms laws” or regulations that “imposes a prohibition, restriction or other regulation that does not exist under the laws of the state of Utah.” The resolution also tasks lawmakers with passing the bill before or during the 2022 legislative session. The Utah House passed legislation in the 2021 session allowing the state to ignore new federal gun laws, but the bill died in the Senate.

Resolution sponsor Aaron Bullen said in an email he was disappointed Cox did not let lawmakers consider legislation on the topic during May’s special session.

“I would like to see something similar proposed in 2022,” he said. “By passing this resolution, the party will show the Legislature and governor that we expect concrete action to be taken on this in 2022.”

The central issue, allowing states to ignore or refuse to enforce federal laws, is a sticky legal topic. Bullen cites the 10th Amendment in his resolution, which gives states powers not spelled out in the Constitution. But the supremacy clause in the Constitution says if state and federal laws are in conflict, then the federal laws take precedence.

Last week the Davis County Sheriff’s Office adopted a policy in which officers would no longer enforce any federal law or presidential order that infringes on the Second Amendment.