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'Lauren's Law' Hits A Legislative Roadblock, Sponsor Hopes To Bring It Back

Cory Dinter for KUER
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Midvale, said he's optimistic that his bill could advance out of committee after some modification.

A House committee voted Wednesday to hold a bill that would hold firearm owners liable if they lend out a weapon that is used in a crime.

Sponsor Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Midvale, said the bill, dubbed “Lauren’s Law,” would not affect the “99 percent of responsible gun owners who secure their firearms and don’t loan them out recklessly” and would only apply in cases where a felony is committed with the weapon.

The bill’s name refers to University of Utah student-athlete Lauren McCluskey, who was killed in October by a former boyfriend who shot her with a firearm he had borrowed.

Citing concerns from some lawmakers and gun rights advocates about the threshold for prosecution of gun owners, Stoddard supported not advancing the bill out of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in order to work on it further.

“They may have some concerns about the strict liability and so we may need to lower that” or replace it with intent language, Stoddard, a freshman Democrat and criminal prosecutor, told reporters after the hearing.

“I’m optimistic that (the bill) wasn’t killed,” Stoddard said. “I do think there is something that we can agree on and I look forward to working on it and bringing it back.”

Gun rights advocates including the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Utah Shooting Sports Council opposed the bill.

“This is a classic anti-gun tactic of shifting responsibility from the criminal to the law-abiding firearm owner,” said NRA lobbyist Brain Judy, who added the bill is a “proverbial slippery slope” toward more gun control measures.

McCluskey was gunned down outside her dorm on the University of Utah campus last fall by her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, who used a borrowed gun to shoot her before turning it on himself. Police say the friend who lent Rowland the gun did not know he was a felon.

McCluskey’s mother Jill, who lives in Washington state, had called for such a provision in November.

“The person who lent Lauren’s killer the gun needs to be prosecuted. It is a great responsibility to own a gun,” McCluskey wrote on Twitter.

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee advanced two other bills that seek to reduce gun violence and tabled another.

Lawmakers unanimously approved a bill by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, which is aimed at reducing youth suicides by educating and encouraging gun owners to lock up their firearms. The measure would distribute gun lock cables, coupons for gun safes and safe storage informational packets. It was supported by representatives from the NRA and the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

The committee also voted unanimously to advance a bill by Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, to expand a law already on the books that allows gun owners to surrender their weapons to law enforcement if they suspect someone else in the home might use it to harm themselves or someone else.

Republicans on the committee voted down a proposal by Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, to encourage safe storage through what she called a “legal nudge.” The measure would have held gun owners liable if their weapon was left unlocked and accessed by a minor or person restricted from possessing a firearm who then uses the gun to harm someone else.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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