Gun safety and rising inflation dominated a monthly news conference with local reporters and Gov. Spencer Cox hosted by PBS Utah at the Eccles Broadcast Center on Thursday.
The governor claimed he’s “open” to most conversations regarding gun safety regulation in Utah, including red flag laws and raising the minimum age to purchase firearms. He also said the state is working to invest upward of $10 million in food pantry assistance as inflation continues to choke Utahns.
Cox described the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, as “unthinkable” and “horrendous.” He noted that a similar shooting is bound to happen in Utah at some point.
“And I’m probably going to have to be the one to stand in front of those parents and look them in the eye,” Cox said. “It’s going to be devastating if I can’t in good faith say we tried to do something.”
Utah did experience a mass shooting in 2007. Five people were killed and four were injured when a gunman opened fire at the Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City.
Cox said he would like to get together with the Legislature to find a “solution” to gun violence that upholds the Second Amendment.
One policy the governor said he would like to see gunlocks required with every purchase of a firearm. Cox mentioned that public funding to provide those locks would be a possibility.
Additionally, Cox said he would like to see Utahns penalized and held accountable for not locking up their firearms.
The policy suggestion wasn’t necessarily in response to mass shootings but could help Utah’s high suicide and domestic violence murder rates. Domestic violence cases spiked during the pandemic. And Cox said Utah has around 30-50 domestic violence deaths yearly.
“Domestic violence crime has not been receding like some other crimes over the course of this year,” Cox said. “And that’s deeply concerning to me.”
He said he would like to look at what Utah can do at the legislative level to enforce Utahns to properly lock up their weapons. The law, Cox says, would prevent suicides, domestic violence and gun theft. Cox also hoped the law “could also prevent some of these mass shootings.”
However, Cox was wary of red flag laws that would, in some instances, ban people from being able to purchase or carry firearms. In theory, Cox says he supports red flag laws. The caveat, he says, is the details of red flag laws usually infringe on the Second Amendment. Regardless, Cox said he’s “open to a discussion” about implementing red flag laws in Utah.
Cox didn’t outwardly oppose Utah Sen. Derick Kitchen’s bill to raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21. Instead, the governor said he’s “just not there yet” on the idea.
“We are sending kids out to fight for our country at age 18,” Cox said. “And so that gives me pause.”
Inflation and the price of gas
Right off the bat, Cox said the Federal Reserve has not done enough to slow inflation. On Wednesday, the Feds spiked interest rates by 0.75% in an effort to curb inflation. He said the agency is trying to “thread the tiniest of needles” when it comes to decreasing demand without falling into a recession.
He said the increased interest rates are having their desired impact on the housing market but noted that move hurts Uthans trying to find housing.
“Hopefully, over time, that [interest rates] will help to drive down the cost of housing, make it more affordable. But in the short term, we’re making it more expensive,” Cox said.
Additionally, Cox mentioned the hike in interest rates might disincentivize people from selling their homes.
And if America was to slide into a recession, Cox said the data proves Utah would weather it well.
“Utah is situated better than really any other state to handle any type of a recession,” Cox said, “both from the way that we manage our public finances, as well as just the diversification of the economy being one of the most diverse economies in the country with very low unemployment.”
When it comes to the price at the pump, Cox entertained the idea of free public transit. He also said he supports forgoing Utah’s gas taxes to lower the cost but that it could backfire.
“If we tax at the rack instead of at the pump. It could actually be a windfall for petroleum companies,” Cox said. “There’s no guarantee that it would be passed on directly to the consumers.”
Cox condemned the Biden Administration’s proposal to ban oil and gas leasing on federal lands. He said Biden is sending a message to investors that they should not pay attention to the natural resources America has to offer. He also said the oil and gas America extracts should be used in-house rather than shipped off to other countries.
“Instead of exporting the production of oil and gas to people like Vladimir Putin and the Saudis, we should be doing that,” Cox said. “I think the world is a safer place and the environment is better across the globe if America is a leader in this space.”