Foreign workers can — again — own firearms after Utah Legislature repeals accidental ban

The sponsor of the bill says his intent was not to prohibit gun ownership for those in Utah legally on guest-worker or student visas.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Representatives during a special legislative session in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

A recently enacted provision that banned migrants from purchasing or possessing a firearm was repealed by the Utah Legislature during a special session on Wednesday

The ban, included in HB225, passed during the 2023 legislative session aimed at closing some loopholes in Utah’s firearms laws.

Primarily, the bill meant to keep law enforcement from returning firearms to individuals who are legally prohibited from owning a gun — usually because of a past criminal violation — which sponsor Rep. Ryan D. Wilcox, R-Ogden, said has happened several times. To stop that from happening, the bill required police departments to run a background check before returning the gun to its owner.

But it also included language that prohibited migrants, including those in the country legally, from purchasing or possessing a gun. That would have impacted those who, for example, had a legal guest worker visa or a student visa.

“What we found is that we had inadvertently included folks who shouldn’t have been restricted,” Wilcox said. “It’s a very small handful of people who are here on legitimate visas who also got caught up in that legislation.”

As a result, since May 3, those immigrants who had guns were violating the law. Wilcox said it also impacted people who had come to the state on guest worker visas to work for gunsmiths and “obviously need access to firearms to do their jobs.”

Wilcox said he would work on refining the language before the next legislative session in January 2024 to apply the ban to non-citizens “with nefarious intent” without impacting those here on a legal visa.

The repeal passed the Legislature unanimously and with little discussion.

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