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Kristin Murphy, KSL, File

After Utah slaying, lawmaker wants to expand liability when borrowed guns kill or injure

By Annie Knox, KSL | Updated - Dec 20th, 2018 @ 4:47pm | Posted - Dec 20th, 2018 @ 1:44pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Following the death of a University of Utah student, a newly elected state lawmaker wants to make it easier to sue people who loan out guns that are then used in a crime.

No draft has been filed and he is still hashing out the details, but Rep.-elect Andrew Stoddard says the proposal would apply only to those who lend out a firearm on purpose, and not when a gun is stolen or used in self-defense.

"We're obviously not going to put you on the hook for something you had no control over," the Midvale Democrat said Thursday on KSL Newsradio's "Dave and Dujanovic Show." "This is for cases where people are very obviously loaning their gun out to people and doing it intentionally, and then someone uses that gun to commit a violent offense."

His proposed "Lauren's Law" follows the October death of University of Utah senior Lauren McCluskey. The communication major and track athlete was shot to death by a parolee she had recently stopped dating after she learned he was a sex offender who had given her a fake name, police said.

Melvin Rowland, 37, killed her on campus before taking his own life as police closed in. University police said he borrowed the gun from a friend, saying he wanted to take his girlfriend target shooting.

Clark Aposhian with the Utah Shooting Sports Council opposes Stoddard's measure. He said the bill is searching for a stand-in because Rowland cannot be held accountable after his death.

"He's creating the lowest level yet of culpability to have someone other than the actual criminal stand in," Aposhian said. Someone can sue in such circumstances under existing law, he noted.

Even though it's possible, it's not necessarily easy to sue gun owners over crimes that involve their weapons but not the owners themselves, said Stoddard, a Murray city prosecutor.

The bill seeking to codify the liability "gives a defined way to pursue civil damages," he said, and could cut down the time and resources it would take to pin down the right statute and file the suit, he said. "It made sense given the tragic facts of the case."

Stoddard said in an interview he wants to promote responsible gun ownership and cut down on what he calls "casual gun-sharing culture."

In Utah, it's a crime for a gun owner to loan the weapon to someone who the owner knows intends to carry out a crime or someone who's on parole for a violent crime. Stoddard said his bill would apply to civil suits and not criminal cases, but he may consider proposing a change to the criminal code.

Stoddard, a former victims' rights attorney, is working on two other measures related to domestic and dating violence.

One would prevent offenders from having domestic violence convictions expunged in the first five years in order to deter further crimes. Another would classify so-called revenge porn as domestic violence, a move that Stoddard said would give courts more power to order treatment for offenders.

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