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Utah Senate may close loophole that allowed Salt Lake County to regulate some gun purchases

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.
Nicole Nixon
/
KUER
“Our most important duty as legislators is to preserve Utah's freedoms, including the freedom to bear arms without unnecessary government interference,” said bill sponsor Sen. Chris Wilson, R-Logan.

Utah lawmakers want to close a loophole that allowed Salt Lake County to require background checks for all gun sales and transfers conducted at facilities owned by the county.

The Senate preliminarily approved a bill, S.B. 115, along party lines Tuesday that would close that loophole.

The bill also allows people to sue local governments for violating it.

“Our most important duty as legislators is to preserve Utah's freedoms, including the freedom to bear arms without unnecessary government interference,” said bill sponsor Sen. Chris Wilson, R-Logan. “The purpose of this bill is to clarify and protect citizens from local government gun regulations that contradict state law.”

Democrats raised concerns that the proposal could prevent local governments from making other land use decisions related to guns.

“All land use changes within a local municipality are listed as an ordinance … does this get in the way of a city regulating where a gun store, for instance, could be located?” said Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City. “This is a pretty clear overreach from the state, especially considering that we already prevent any sort of local regulation on who can own or possess a firearm.”

Democrats also said the legislation could make Utah more prone to gun violence.

“I have been in lockdowns many times in my school with gun violence,” said Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, who is also a teacher. “It's really upsetting to have our schools go into this lockdown where our kids are asked to go into the corner of their schools and police are running by. So I just really feel like we need to increase our responsibility — not decrease.”

Republicans pushed back against that assertion.

“There's a number of websites where you can go and buy guns and an 18-year-old can buy a gun legally in a private transaction,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. “So I don't understand how this loophole bill has anything to do with increasing violence ... I think that it's an apples and oranges argument.”

The bill still needs one more vote in the Senate before moving to the House.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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