By BRIAN D. HENDERSON
State Republican leaders are expected to present the party’s line of fire on school safety and concealed weapons today in a news conference at the State Capitol.
Republican leadership has been pushing back the news conference all week in order to mend internal disagreements over how to proceed with the gun debate.
Lawmakers expect Senate President Lane Beattie, R-Davis, to introduce a bill that both parties could support. Republicans and Democrats said they hope common sense will prevail.
In the next four weeks, legislators will have to wade through 30-plus bills that address firearm and safety issues. Thursday was the deadline for legislators to file bills to be considered during this year’s session.
“We’re going to let all the gun bills out (of Rules Committee) and everybody’s going to have their fair shot,” said House Majority Leader Kevin Garn. “But if it’s not solving a problem, it’s not going to pass and it’s as simple as that.”
House Minority Leader Dave Jones, D-Salt Lake, is sponsoring one bill that would ban concealed weapons in public schools. And if the bill doesn’t pass in the Republican supermajority, a coalition is circulating a petition to put the initiative on the November ballot.
The Republicans are calling Jones’ bill a misfire.
“There’s a hue and a cry to restrict guns, but the trouble is they’re (Democrats) not going after the root cause. All they do is restrict law- abiding citizens,” said Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.
Jones said there are 30,000 concealed weapons license holders in Utah. Before the law passed in 1995, a person had to show need in order to obtain a permit. The current law stipulates only that the person be “of good character.”
Republican leaders say it is the Second Amendment right of citizens to carry concealed weapons in schools. Garn said it makes no sense to punish the law-abiding citizens who are not causing the problem. He said that in the 150-year history of public education in Utah, no child has been killed or hurt with a gun.
Democrats also emphasize their belief in the Second Amendment, but say its interpretation has been liberalized so much, it no longer represents common sense. And for them, banning weapons from schools is a common sense safety issue.
“I have never thought or suggested that people who hold concealed weapons permits are somehow going to go crazy and start shooting up schools. I don’t think it will ever happen,” Jones said.
Jones’ concern, he said, is kids becoming aware of the mere presence of a firearm in school, which significantly magnifies the likelihood of an accident.
With only 20 Democrats in the 75-member House and 11 Democrats in the 29-member Senate, any bill the Republicans do not support is not likely to pass. But Jones said he is willing to support a Republican bill if it accomplishes the same things his would.
Political semantics reveal two interpretations of the debate.
When Rep. Garn says that schools are already “gun-free zones,” he means that concealed weapons holders can still enter the premises. And when Democrats speak of banning guns, Jones’ law provides for exemptions based on the approval of school administrators.
Running the bill with such provisions irks Rob Bishop, chairman of the Utah Republican Party. He said Jones’ bill or the voter initiative would not take guns out of schools or do anything to improve school safety.
Because the provisions would let school administrators give people permission to bring firearms into schools, and nothing changes Bishop said.