South Provo rep seeks self-defense weapons exemption in DUI law

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The Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah is home to the Utah Legislature. The annual General Session began on Jan. 22.(Porter Chelson)

The Provo representative who sponsored Utah’s controversial 0.05 blood alcohol DUI limit is preparing revisions to the law that would exempt people who use weapons for self-defense while intoxicated.

Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, represents south Provo, where many BYU students reside. This exemption is among other potential changes he has been working on prior to this year’s Utah Legislature.

Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo

The current law makes it a misdemeanor to carry or use a dangerous weapon with a blood alcohol level above 0.05 percent. Thurston said if a gun is fired in self-defense, the same consequence should not apply.

“Our current law says that if you’re intoxicated and carrying a weapon, you’re guilty of a crime,” Thurston said. “We want to come up with an exception for someone who is defending their home. It’s not going to happen very often, but it’s important to the people involved.”

Thurston sponsored the 2017 proposal to lower the blood alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05 percent, which was successful. The legal blood alcohol level will drop in December 2018 for DUIs, as well as for carrying a weapon.

Thurston has yet to finalize the language for the revisions, but some have already opposed the bill. Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, openly opposed the original bill during its Senate committee appearance and still stands ready to voice his opinion against it.

“It’s simply not going to do what the legislature says it’s going to do,” Dabakis said. “No other state has ever done this. It’s just spinning our wheels, but not preventing DUIs, deaths or the serious injuries that come from that.”

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, agrees with the exemption Thurston is trying to implement. Perry works for the Utah Highway Patrol, in addition to his responsibilities as a state representative.

“If the county attorney thinks a person had reason to protect themselves with a gun, I don’t think we should charge somebody with another crime because we didn’t charge them for using the weapon,” Perry said. “If they’re impaired but it’s a life or death situation and they’re defending their life, we’re not going to say, ‘Yeah, you have a right to defend yourself, except when you’ve had too many beers.'”

Thurston is not sure whether the law will lower the amount of drinking, but he does think that it will contribute to safer roads statewide.

“It’s becoming known that in our state it’s not acceptable to drink and drive. You can find another way home,” he said. “I want to make sure that, as a lawmaker, I err on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to taking action to defend themselves. We want to make sure people have the right to bear arms in the defense of their homes and their families.”

Thurston is also seeking to pass a public safety code that would modify who should be on the restricted drivers list and clarify liability issues in crimes involving intoxicated people.

The revisions will be discussed during this year’s legislative session. The bill can be followed at le.utah.gov under the bills section.

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