George Pyle: Utah Legislature passes the Law of the Jungle

Lawmakers continue to promote the false idea that more guns make society safer.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) More than 20 armed men showed up at the State Capitol grounds, where a handful of protesters were protesting recent violence in Portland, on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

“A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as ‘our rebellion.’ It is only in the third person — ‘their rebellion’ — that it becomes illegal.”

Benjamin Franklin

Members of the Utah Legislature are supposed to pass laws that help to keep us safe. Or, at least, safer.

But many of our lawmakers have apparently decided that such efforts are beyond their abilities, or outside their jurisdiction, and, being the good originalists that they are, have decided that we should go back to the beginning.

To the Law of the Jungle. To a state of nature, everyone for themselves, where life is, as Thomas Hobbes said, “nasty, brutish and short.”

Why else would so much of the time and energy of the current legislative session have been devoted to bills based on a philosophy that Utah is a dangerous and violent place and that the state should not try to make it otherwise so much as to help Utah’s rugged individuals cope and overcome through their own strength and firepower.

Unless, of course, those individuals are female, Black or taking to the streets to demand equality before the law. In which case they should understand that, in the battle of the fittest, they are expendable.

Consider the recent spectacle of a contingent of white people who like to carry powerful firearms in public to assert their superiority asking a Utah legislative committee to pass a law that would increase the penalties for participating in a riot, even as it excused killing demonstrators by running them over with a car — or, more likely, a belching pickup truck — if the driver was “fleeing from a riot.”

Even in isolation, such a demonstration is absurd in the extreme. Understood in the context of recent events — in Utah and in Washington, D.C. — the only way to read Senate Bill 138 is that a loud and powerful minority of white people believe they have been threatened.

Threatened first by a summer of large, loud and, yes, occasionally violent, demonstrations demanding justice for the number of unarmed Black people who seem to keep dying at the hands, or under the knees, of white police officers. And then by a outcome of a free and fair election that didn’t come out the way they wanted it to.

The fact that self-anointed armed gangs — they are not worthy of the title “militia” — see a threat in crowds of unarmed demonstrators, but not in their own efforts to intimidate whole communities with a threat of being shot a great many times, only makes sense if they see things as they want the law to see it, where Black demonstrators are rioters and white rioters are demonstrators.

SB138 has passed the Senate but, at this writing, not the House. With luck, the clock will run out on this bill and it will not become law.

Neither will House Bill 76, which orders cities and counties to stand down from any effort to join the civilized world by requiring background checks on firearms purchased at gun shows in publicly owned facilities, as Salt Lake County has rightly done for its convention centers.

Nor House Bill 258, which would direct the Utah State Board of Education to launch a pilot program of firearms safety instruction in the state’s public high schools. Firearms safety is a good idea, but such an effort to normalize guns though public education, when the schools are already overwhelmed, is a bad idea.

The more-guns-the-better crowd — aka, people who can’t tell the difference between movies and real life — should content themselves with the rapid passage of House Bill 60. That’s the one that made it legal for anybody of any mental state or level of intelligence to carry a concealed firearm, removing what had been minimal requirements for training in firearms laws, safety and suicide prevention.

Everyone else will have to cling to the fact that one particularly bad idea, a bill that would make it much more difficult for women who feel threatened to get a protective order from a court, was withdrawn by its author.

No amount of laws will remove all risk from life. It would be nice, though, if our elected leaders would at least try to ameliorate the hazards of our existence, not give up and leave us all to our own explosive devices.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) George Pyle.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, enjoys movies because he knows they are not real.


Twitter, @debatestate