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SALT LAKE CITY — "I'm afraid at school, afraid I'll be next," a young woman says in a new TV commercial, before calling on Utah voters to elect new members of Congress willing to take action on gun control.
Bob Steiner said he's paying for the ads set to begin airing Monday to support the efforts of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of a deadly school shooting in February.
The former Democratic state senator is expected to spend about $200,000 on the campaign, which will also includes advertising on Facebook, YouTube and a website between now and Election Day.
"We've had a lot of these big mass shootings," Steiner said. "I've been so impressed with the Parkland students and how they've taken on a lot of leadership and tried to improve safety for themselves and for everybody."
The co-CEO and an owner of the Salt Lake City-based Alsco Inc., a linen supply company with operations around the world, Steiner said he hasn't met the Florida students but did contribute to a March for Our Lives event held in Sandy in June.
"They're just kids, you know," he said. "These terrible events happen, and then, within a few days, like three or four days, it drops out of the news. Nobody's talking about it."
Steiner said he wants to see all four U.S. House members from Utah replaced in the November midterm election because "they aren't getting it done and this is one of the most important issues of our time."
But he said he's not advocating any specific candidates or legislation.
"There's lot of ideas," Steiner said, including strengthening background checks for gun purchases and considering a ban on military-style assault rifles. "We've got to get started, just a little bit at a time."
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council focused on protecting gun rights, said he looks forward to the debate he expects to be sparked by the TV commercials.
"Free speech is a fantastic thing," Aposhian said. "I welcome it. I have zero problem. We are strong enough in our commitment and we believe our view is correct and can withstand scrutiny."
He said he'd be willing to "put the rhetoric aside" and talk with Steiner about why Utah hasn't had a mass school shooting, suggesting it could be due to the state's existing gun laws as well as other factors.
"Why can't we at least entertain the thought that we might be doing something right already," Aposhian said. "It may in fact be that we've been lucky. But we've been lucky for many years."
Steiner said he met the unidentified people who appear in the ad during the marches held in Utah to protest gun violence in the wake of the Parkland shooting that left 17 dead.
The same young woman who expressed concern for her safety at school in what will be the first of three commercials has the last word. "This November, vote to bring new members of Congress to the table, people who will listen and take action."
Others, also looking directly into the camera, say they've asked for "frank discussions" on gun violence and mass shootings, and "to talk about protecting our families," but Congress has failed to act.
"We're tired of lip service," a young man says. "It's time to vote them out," a woman adds. Viewers are told the commercial is being paid for by "Bob Steiner, private citizen."
Future commercials will feature people apologizing for the fear students feel and saying they're sorry for voting for people "who have done nothing to stop an epidemic of gun violence."
Tom Love, president founding partner of Love Communications, the agency behind the TV commercials, said he wanted the spots "to be real and emotional, properly reflecting the emotion inherent with the issue."
He said they're intended to be "sincere, genuine and impactful. A direct contrast with not only other political messages, but all messages. With this type of starkness, more people will pay attention in what otherwise can be a sea of shouting."
Steiner, elected in 1990 to the first of two terms in the Utah Senate, said he chose to identify himself as a private citizen rather than establish a political issues committee "because I'm not in office or a big wheel or anything like that."
He said the term is intended to point out the power all citizens have at the ballot box.
"A private citizen has a very important job. We get to vote," Steiner said. "I hope I'm making a difference."