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'Lauren's Law' Will Not Go Forward This Year

Nicole Nixon

State lawmakers voted against advancing legislation to address who is liable when a loaned firearm is used in a crime. The measure was motivated by the fatal shooting of a University of Utah student last fall.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, was running the bill, which he dubbed “Lauren’s Law” after Lauren McCluskey, the U. student athlete killed last year. The legislation would have made gun owners civilly liable if they loan out a weapon that ends up being used in a crime, which is what happened in McCluskey’s case.

But after hearing similar concerns from two different legislative committees, Stoddard said he will continue work on the legislation and try again in 2020.  

McCluskey, 21, was killed on Oct. 22 by Melvin Rowland, whom she had briefly dated. Rowland was on probation and barred from owning or possessing a firearm, but used a borrowed gun to shoot McCluskey before he turned it on himself.

After her death, McCluskey’s parents called for such a liability law.

Stoddard carved out exemptions for stolen guns and borrowed weapons used in self-defense. He said the bill was meant to encourage responsible gun ownership.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people that this affects their Second Amendment rights. I don’t think it does,” he told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. “There’s nothing in the Second Amendment that gives you any right to loan your gun out to whoever you want.”

The bill faced resistance in previous hearings before the House Law Enforcement Committee, so it was moved to the House Judiciary Committee for a second hearing.

But the proposed law ran into many of the same concerns about strict liability there, too.

“I am concerned about the standard, the burden of proof for a truly innocent – I’m going to say that – gun owner who has no knowledge” that their weapon may have been taken, said Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara.

Snow added that he worried attorneys would seize on the law and “attach liability wherever they can find it.”

After the hearing, Stoddard said he plans to bring the bill back next year. With feedback from other lawmakers, the freshman Democrat believes he can rally the support to pass legislation. But he noted the uphill climb many bills dealing with guns face in the conservative-leaning Utah Legislature.

“Anyone bringing a gun bill in Utah has a lot of work to do,” he said. “They’re not easy to pass.” 

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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