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County Rule Required Background Checks On All Gun Sales At This Weekend's Rocky Mountain Gun Show

Nicole Nixon / KUER
Following an operational change by Salt Lake County this year, background checks are required on all firearm sales and transfers at county-owned facilities, like the Rocky Mountain Gun Show held this weekend at the Mountain America Expo Center.

Despite a new rule requiring background checks on all gun sales and transfers conducted at facilities owned by Salt Lake County, the first gun show of the year at the county-owned Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy started off without a hitch.

"Most people have no trouble with it," said Ralph Iverson, who was selling antique shotguns and rifles at the Rocky Mountain Gun Show on Saturday. 

"All I’ve got to do is just walk down there" with an interested buyer, Iverson said, gesturing to the booth set up in the middle of this expo hall.

At the booth, buyers are required to fill out paperwork and pay $8 for a background check before they’re allowed to purchase firearms at the show. First time gun buyers may have to wait a day or two to clear the background check, said gun show organizer Mitch McKinlay. Otherwise, the process can take as little as 15 minutes. 

The change was announced by Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson in December  and took effect at the beginning of the year. Previously, only sales by licensed gun dealers required a background check.

"I support the rights of lawful gun owners, but the risk of unlicensed dealers selling a firearm to someone with a violent criminal record or history of domestic abuse is a risk we cannot accept in Salt Lake County," Wilson said when she announced the new rule. "We can all agree that responsible gun ownership should include responsible gun buying and selling as well."

Credit Nicole Nixon / KUER
Ralph Iverson holds one of his antique rifles at the Rocky Mountain Gun Show.

Iverson, who drove from Cedar City to attend the show, said he "almost didn’t come up because I thought it might affect the sales," but has found that the newly-required background checks haven’t been too much of an inconvenience.

In fact, he said he feels some relief about handing over a gun to someone knowing they’ve passed a background check. "You know when you sell the gun, you sold to someone qualified to buy it. So there is some good to it," he said.

Other than the new background check booth, show organizers said the rule change didn’t mean much for putting on the event, which comes to the Sandy expo center several times a year.

"People are pretty understanding. They know that it’s a county decision, it’s not our decision as a gun show," said promoter Mitch McKinlay. "Everybody’s been pretty good about it, really and truly."

Salt Lake County’s facilities management company, SMG, paid an estiamted $500 for the background check booth at this weekend’s Rocky Mountain Gun Show to assist with the transition, a county spokesman said.

Credit Nicole Nixon / KUER
A booth set up in the middle of the Rocky Mountain Gun Show at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy runs background checks on all gun sales at the county-owned facility after a change announced by Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson in December.

The Rocky Mountain Gun Show held classes for concealed weapons permits and advertised the permit as an alternative to the background checks.

"It’s a good thing to protect yourself," McKinlay said. "But it also serves that other purpose — it saves you money when you purchase guns or firearms in the future and makes everything smoother and quicker for your background check."

The gun show organizer said concealed carry permit holdersare not required by law to undergo background checks, but that the firearm seller will still take down the purchaser’s permit number to record the transfer. Concealed weapon permit holders must pass a background check in order to receive the permit.

County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s move was applauded by advocates against gun violence.

"We think background checks are wonderful. They’re a wonderful way to make people safer," said Gay Lynn Bennion with the Utah chapter of Moms Demand Action. 

Bennion pointed toa poll that shows 88% of Utahns support requiring background checks on all gun sales. She urged lawmakers to pass a bill for universal background checks sponsored by House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, in the upcoming legislative session.

 "We just would like it to be that we make steps to make our community safer, so that our children are not afraid to go to school," she said.

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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