Utah lawmakers say they want to protect kids. Here are the gun laws the Legislature did — and didn’t — pass.

Firearms have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lawmakers bow their heads in prayer in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023.

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Concerns for the health and safety of children inspired several measures approved by Utah lawmakers during the 2023 legislative session. Legislators took steps to protect children from, what they called, the harmful effects of transgender medical care and social media. Still, they did little to address the potential harm from gun violence — the leading cause of death for children and teens.

In the first two weeks of the 2023 session, lawmakers rammed through SB16, which bans transgender health care for Utah’s youth. The bill from Sen. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, banned gender-affirming surgeries and placed an indefinite moratorium on hormone therapy for minors.

Kennedy repeatedly said the bill would help protect children from making permanent decisions about their bodies at such a young age. Opponents claim to deny such care to children struggling with gender-identity issues could lead to higher rates of suicide.

Utah also became the first state to slap restrictions on the use of social media by minors. A pair of bills prohibit the use of social media platforms by those under 18 years old without parental permission and require age verification before residents can use or maintain a social media account. Companies would also be banned from implementing features that lead to an addiction to their service and may be fined or sued for violations.

Lawmakers, like Spanish Fork Republican Sen. Mike McKell, pushed the new restrictions because of emerging research that connects declining mental health among minors to social media use.

“We’ve got a mental health crisis ... There are a lot of negative impacts from social media, and we want to change that,” McKell said during a recent interview on CNN.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who signed both pieces of legislation, has alleged in the past that social media companies “are killing our kids.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox signs two social media regulation bills during a ceremony at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 23, 2023.

That impulse to ban dangerous things for children did not transfer to firearms during the 2023 session. Firearms have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Firearm-related deaths among children increased by 29% from 2019 to 2020.

Moe Hickey, executive director of Voices for Utah Children, said lawmakers missed an opportunity to make a real impact on declining mental health by ignoring the role played by guns.

“If we’re not looking at the whole picture, then we’re never going to come up with a true solution to the problem,” Hickey said. “You have to look at the role guns play. The vast majority of young male suicide in Utah is with a gun.”

Lawmakers introduced 25 firearms-related bills during this year’s annual lawmaking effort, passing 16 of them. Several of the bills that won approval expanded access to firearms.

House Majority Whip Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, sponsored two bills that broadened gun rights the most. HB219 bars the state from enforcing federal laws or regulations restricting or banning firearms, ammunition or accessories. That means law enforcement in Utah would ignore a new Justice Department ban on pistol shoulder braces, which turns pistols into rifles. Utah is one of around two dozen states suing the Biden administration to block the rule. The Justice Department rule is scheduled to go into effect on May 31, but Lisonbee’s bill became effective immediately, heading off the new restrictions.

Lisonbee was also behind legislation waiving concealed carry permit fees for school employees. Utah bans guns in schools without a concealed permit.

Lawmakers approved legislation restricting the ability of those convicted of domestic violence to access firearms but rejected a ban on the possession of ammunition by those same persons. A bill requiring the Bureau of Criminal Identification to collect statistics on the source of firearms recovered from those restricted persons was also voted down.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hundreds of Utahns marched from West High School to the Capitol, Saturday, June 11, 2022, during the March For Our Lives SLC event. The march is in response to the most recent shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo and Tulsa to demand action from Utah legislators and congressmen to enact gun safety laws.

Lawmakers rejected a proposed ten-day waiting period for the purchase of assault-style weapons like one used in the recent Tennessee school shooting that killed three children and three adults.

The legislature also rejected a separate five-day waiting period proposal for all firearm purchases, two bills criminalizing weapons that have had the serial number altered or removed and a requirement for firearms to be stored securely or have a trigger lock.

Republican legislators introduced a package of bills they said would increase school safety, prompted by school shootings like the 2022 massacre in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two adults dead. They included a requirement that school children and staff participate in “developmentally appropriate” monthly active threat drills and that schools report incidents involving weapons on school grounds to law enforcement.

Lawmakers also approved creating a new position within the Department of Public Safety to oversee the implementation of security measures at every new school built in the state and require all high schools to hire a school resource officer.

A Democratic-sponsored bill requiring schools to provide suicide prevention materials, including firearm safety, to parents of children who have been bullied or threatened suicide was also passed this session.

The new requirements won’t go into effect until next school year.

Democratic Sen. Nate Blouin says lawmakers could have and should have done much more this year to address the well-being of children.

“It’s disingenuous to say we’re focused on protecting kids while the supermajority loosens regulations on firearms, which are, after all, the leading cause of death amongst American youth. We need to take a more holistic approach that addresses the actual causes of the mental health epidemic and not a singular focus on politically expedient legislation,” Blouin said.