The Utah State Legislature is obsessed with guns big guns, little guns, guns on university campuses, guns in private cars, guns in the home, even guns in elementary schools. This issue seems to come up every year, each time getting increasingly more insane.This is shown expertly in a Jan. 28 political cartoon appearing in The Salt Lake Tribune by artist Pat Bagley. The cartoon shows a man, identified as a member of the Legislature, kneeling in a very Smeagol (a la “The Lord of the Rings”) sort of way, holding a gun in a dark cave. He laments, “My precious …” This could not be a more accurate description of the odd ways that our elected officials seem to worship these destructive objects.
The right to bear arms is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, so there isn’t much we can do to get rid of handguns at this point. However, Senate Bill 48, which was passed this week by the state Senate and moved to the House, proposes that an individual may not be prohibited from doing pretty much whatever he or she would like with a gun, wherever he or she wants. This bill includes language that would make it perfectly legal for a person to complete a personal gun sale in the parking lot or even the classroom of an elementary school. In addition, there is nothing any local government can do about this law. The bill mandates that no “local authority or state entity” can enact any “ordinance, regulation, rule or policy,” with regard to firearms, that in any way restricts the use of firearms on public property.
The original form of the bill also required private property owners to allow guns on their property. It completely boggles my mind that someone could propose such a law. As a private citizen, do I not have the right to tell someone that they cannot bring a firearm into my home? As a private business owner, can I not prevent someone from entering with a gun? As the head of an institution of higher learning, public or private, can I not keep my students safe by creating a weapons-free campus?
Fortunately, in the process of open debate, these important ques-tions are brought to the forefront. An amendment to the bill was presented by Sen. Gregory Bell, R-Fruit Heights, which protected the right of property owners to prohibit the carrying of guns on their property. The Senate approved the bill in its amended form and sent it on to the House for that body’s vote.
Even still, SB48 is unacceptable. It fails to take into account high risk areas and differing needs of local communities. Suppose I am a teacher at an inner-city high school. I realize that I can bring my Smith & Wesson .357 eight shooter to work to “protect myself.” Being that I am a teacher, and I do interact with my students, it soon becomes apparent that I bring my gun to class. My holster chafes my chest and I need to use the restroom. Although I know it is not legal to keep the gun off my person, I just need to make a quick run to the bathroom. As is common when the teacher leaves the room, especially in inner-city schools, an argument ensues between two students in the class. My students are not stupid — they saw me put the weapon in the drawer. To play out the rest of the scene, I’d like to modify the words of the lyrical poet Eazy-E: “One sucker dead, SL Trib front page.” Even if a school anticipates this problem, there is nothing that it, or any other local government, can do to prevent it from happening. It completely takes away the rights of local governments to govern themselves.
That is the exact reason former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn opposes the bill. For all the whining the state legislatures do about federal oversight, they have no problem forcing laws down the throats of local governments laws that can certainly vary according to the jurisdiction: This law may work fine in one place, but be a horrible solution in another.
I am a realist, and as such, I realize that this bill will probably pass the House and be signed into law by Gov. Olene Walker. But I refuse to believe that any good could come of this bill. If it does become law, mark my words: One day, Sen. Michael Waddoups and everyone who supported this bill will be responsible for a violent act that occurs in one of the loca-tions where local government has no control over the presence of firearms.
Nick Macey is a student at the University of Utah.