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SALT LAKE CITY — On the one-year anniversary of the deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, the Utah House of Representatives hadn't yet debated new legislation to address the calls for gun reform.
Instead, the House approved a resolution Thursday recognizing "that the best manner to protect the vulnerable without infringing on the right of the people to bear arms is to enforce the laws already found in Utah code."
That nonbinding resolution, sponsored by Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, passed with a 56-16 vote mostly along party lines. It passed despite Democrats' complaints that the resolution sends the wrong message — that Utah's laws already do enough to protect people from gun violence.
"There are things we need to do," argued House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, on the House floor. "There are things we can do."
But Maloy said "what we really need to focus on" is that Utah does "have good laws that do help protect our people," and they should be enforced. Yet at the same time, he said he's "not suggesting we don't have other bills and laws that come into play here."
The resolution now goes to the Senate.
Other bills focused on increasing gun safety have had slow traction within the Utah Legislature. Rep. Stephen Handy's "red flag" bill, which would allow a court order to disarm at-risk individuals, and Rep. Steve Eliason's bill, which would require federal firearms dealers to provide a cable-style gun lock to gun buyers, are currently in limbo.
Both bills are sitting in the House Rules Committee — which lawmakers often consider purgatory for bills until leadership decides to give them a chance to advance by assigning them to a committee.
However, another one of Maloy's bills — one that would strengthen Utah's stand-your-ground self-defense laws making it clear that people don't need to try to run away before using deadly force against someone — has already made it to the House floor.
Handy, R-Layton, was the lone Republican to vote against Maloy's resolution, saying he disagreed with its message.
"I want to keep an open mind and keep seeking answers to serious societal problems," Handy said.
I want to keep an open mind and keep seeking answers to serious societal problems.
–Rep. Stephen Handy
Handy's bill may face an uphill battle.
Asked about the bill earlier Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert said "red flag" laws are "complex" and not "black and white." He said the proposed law is "good in concept" since "I don't know of anybody that says, 'We want to have guns and weapons in the hands of somebody who is mentally unstable.'"
Yet at the same time the governor said the Utah Legislature must be careful to enact such a law without "due process."
"(So) that, in fact, we don't just have kind of a haphazard approach of taking away somebody's guns because of some accusation," Herbert said.
Weighing "freedom and liberty" against the public's general safety is a "balancing act that we have been addressing since the beginning of our country, and it's no different today," the governor said.
"We could certainly have safer streets if we took away people’s freedoms and liberties," he added. "I don’t know that we want to do that. We are on an eternal quest for that perfect balance, and that’s what we’re doing today."
Herbert also pointed out he's proposed $100 million in his budget for school safety, increasing resources for needed building improvements or more school police officers. He's also proposed an additional $34 million for more school counseling.