Benjamin Kanter: Now that I have a Utah driver license, I can go buy a gun

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Caroline Phinney, left, and Chiemi Maloy join a rally at the Utah Capitol for a mid-session report card on the progress of gun violence and public safety bills in the Utah Legislature on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. The rally took place the day after the anniversary of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, FL.

In Utah, guns are the most common tool for teen suicide. As a senior in high school, with friends suffering from depression and other mental health issues, this is a horrifying statistic.

However, despite evidence that current gun legislation is ineffective at keeping guns out of the wrong hands, the problem is mostly ignored by policymakers. Our Legislature appears overly focused on children and alcohol — 3.2 beer, the Zion Curtain, the Zion Moat, etc. — but shows little regard for children and guns.

Every year our Legislature considers bills about background checks, gun training, storage and more. A wide majority of Utahns support universal background checks. Utahns also widely support the regulation of proper gun training and proper gun storage. Yet such sensible regulations fail because a vocal minority too often successfully argue that such regulations violate the Constitution.

Funny, in my U.S. History class, I don’t remember hearing that there were a lot of people wandering around the Constitutional Convention armed with fully automatic weapons firing over 10 rounds per second. In fact, in the time it takes you to read this sentence, 30-plus shots could be fired. I think that our Founding Fathers might have considered that a problem.

Since 1982, 74% of shootings in the U.S. have been perpetrated by people who got their guns legally. That includes guns purchased through the so-called gun show loophole, which makes it legal to purchase a gun in a private transaction without a background check.

Having recently turned 18, I find it astounding that I can’t buy alcohol, but I can buy a gun. I can’t buy a lottery ticket, get a tattoo, buy cigarettes, or, now, buy flavored e-cigarettes, but I can buy a gun.

This raises the question: Does this really reflect our priorities and values as a society? I can’t do those other things for reasons relating to health and safety. But I can go to a gun show, hand someone some cash and walk away with a gun. No questions. No background check. Nothing. In Utah, buying a gun at a gun show has become an almost comical way around background checks.

How about training? Like my peers, I was excited to get my driver license when I turned 16. It turns out the process was grueling — hours spent in a classroom, more hours in cars observing other drivers and, of course, additional hours actually driving with a trained instructor. And after all the instruction and training? I had to pass written and driving tests. All of this to get behind the wheel of a car. But a gun? As a well-trained driver, all I have to do is drive myself to the nearest gun show.

After acquiring a gun, Utah has no legislation that requires me to be trained or to store my gun safely. It can sit on my kitchen counter, fully loaded, completely unprotected. Maybe my little brother will decide to see what happens when he squeezes the trigger. Maybe one of us, one of our parents, or one of our friends will be killed.

But despite this being a regular occurrence, we still lack the courage to take action. Why? Aren’t we looking out for one another’s health and well-being? Isn’t that why I can’t buy that beer, or that lottery ticket, or that e-cigarette? Why don’t we take action on this deadly serious issue that can touch us so easily in our own homes? We need to take action. We need to take action right now.

This is why I support Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and her recent initiative to close the gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms purchased at county facilities. Instead of showing an equal amount of courage, our Legislature is proposing, through HB271, to countermand Wilson’s initiative by taking away the county’s ability to close the loophole.

For the health and safety of me and my friends, please call your legislators and ask them to follow Wilson’s lead, not to countermand it. Support Wilson’s initiative and say no to HB271.

Benjamin W. Kanter

Benjamin Kanter is a high school student at Rowland Hall. He is participating in a writing project with Alliance for a Better Utah and lives in Sandy.