Utah bill to hold gun owners responsible for shootings fails

Posted at 9:37 PM, Feb 13, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — If a gun is not safely secured and falls into the wrong hands, should the owner be held accountable under state law? That’s what a Midvale lawmaker was hoping to enforce under a secure firearm access bill that ultimately failed in its committee.

Youth gun violence is on many Utahns’ minds after a 14-year-old shot and killed a 17-year-old Saturday night in a Rose Park neighborhood. The Salt Lake City Police Department has not said how the young teen got ahold of the firearm.

On Monday night, the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee considered Midvale Rep. Andrew Stoddard’s HB 354. The bill could fine a gun owner if their firearm is not stored securely and is accessed by someone who commits a crime.

“If they were accessed by minors, at-risk individuals, or firearm-restricted people, then there could be a civil fine imposed,” explained Stoddard.

Parents, educators, and physicians stood in support of secure gun storage, reiterating that gun violence is the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S.

“It’s tragically common and I think we need to find common sense solutions to decrease those numbers,” said Dr. Jeff Robison, a physician in a pediatrics emergency department.

Gun owners questioned how the law would be enforced and argued it infringed on their rights.

“Guns kill. It’s horrible. It’s horrifying,” said Dalane England. “But they also save lives.”

Law enforcement from various agencies also shared concerns that it would deter people from reporting stolen guns.

“We do want to keep them out of the hands of children, obviously that’s very important to us as well,” said Woods Cross City Police Chief Chad Soffe. “But we didn’t feel like this bill went to that extent and went a little bit too far.”

Stoddard argued that 24 states already have something similar, but it wasn’t enough to pass the committee. The bill failed 3-7.

“This would put us in line with what half the country is already doing,” said Stoddard.

“I do know if you have the good guys lock up their guns, the bad guys are still going to have them,” said North Salt Lake Rep. Melissa Ballard.