New bill tells cops to back off charging people who open carry

Posted at 9:25 PM, Jan 15, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new bill that will be introduced in the Utah State Legislature this year will make it tougher for police officers to charge someone with disorderly conduct if they are openly carrying a firearm.

"The problem that we've had is some police agencies have used the disorderly conduct law, in order to use it for gun control," Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said in an interview with FOX 13 News.

Ray said his bill will clarify when and where police could cite someone for disorderly conduct if they are openly carrying their weapon.

"The purpose of this bill is to say, if you are legally carrying a gun and you're meeting all the parameters that is required, you cannot be cited for disorderly conduct," he said.

There have been two incidents in the past that have drawn public scrutiny about Utah's open carry law. In 2011, a man was cited for openly carrying a firearm at Orem's University Mall. Last year, Joseph Kelley carried a rifle over his back in a Riverdale J.C. Penney.

"I was just exercising my Second Amendment rights," Kelley told FOX 13 News. "I believe that a right not exercised is a right lost, and I believe that weapons in the hands of law-abiding citizens can be used to protect the innocent and keep your loved ones and families safe."

Kelley's decision went viral when photos of it were posted on Facebook, drawing both scorn and praise across the world. Kelley said he would support the bill -- as long as its language didn't try to infringe upon people's rights to openly carry.

"I don't believe we should be cited criminally for exercising our Second Amendment rights or protecting ourselves or our families regardless of what weapon we carry," Kelley said.

In past years, police groups have opposed Ray's bill. They wanted lawmakers to require weapons to be holstered or encased. They also sought to have the ability to stop and question people about their intentions.

"The public, obviously, is concerned about someone carrying a gun openly in public," said Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter, the president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association.

"We want the ability to approach and respect the Second Amendment, but at the same time, make sure public safety is intact and that our citizenry feels protected. We felt there was a portion that was missing in the last draft."

Carpenter pointed out that there have been no arrests for disorderly conduct amongst people who open-carry firearms since 2011. The Utah Chiefs of Police Association is adopting a "wait and see" approach to Ray's bill this year. Law enforcement groups had compromised on language last year, but it changed when the bill hit the House floor and it was defeated.

Ray said he is not sure if this year's bill will include the language the police sought in the past.

"If the individual is not responsible with their firearm or they are putting people in danger, there still are avenues to charge and to make that person be responsible for their weapon," he said.