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SALT LAKE CITY — A Republican Utah lawmaker is taking aim at Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s recent move to require vendors at gun shows in facilities owned by Salt Lake County to conduct background checks.
Wilson argues her “operational change” to close the gun show background check loophole in Salt Lake County isn’t necessarily a regulation, but rather an exercise of the county’s administrative ability to set requirements with vendors leasing county-owned facilities.
But Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, is sponsoring HB271, a bill that seeks to declare with more clarity the state has total control over gun laws in Utah — so no city or county can work around it.
“I know (Wilson) has a strong position, and I can respect that position, but we also have our Utah Constitution and the laws of the state of Utah, and they need to abide by that, just like any law,” Maloy said.
Maloy said he began drafting this bill last year, but following Wilson’s move to require background checks in Salt Lake County gun shows, he ran it this session to make it clearer in Utah code the state has the ultimate say on gun rights and gun laws.
“It’s very clear from the Utah Constitution that the state legislates the criminal and civil laws related to firearms, and that’s been long, long standing,” Maloy said.
Last week, the narrowly GOP-controlled Salt Lake County Council voted 5-4 to support a resolution opposed to Maloy’s bill as currently written.
Wilson, a Democrat, says she acted completely within her discretion as the county executive to require background checks on gun sales by outlining that requirement in contracts with vendors leasing county facilities, per legal advice from Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
“It wasn’t a policy change. It wasn’t a regulation, per se, it was a list of requirements for our venue, which we would do for many reasons and do for many reasons,” Wilson said at Tuesday’s County Council meeting. “This has been implemented, and it’s been implemented without a lot of fanfare.”
Wilson noted that polls have shown 88% of Utahns support background checks on gun sales.
County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani, a Democrat, called Maloy’s bill “deeply problematic,” pointing out local control is a conversation the state “really loves until it doesn’t.”
“We should have the ability to negotiate our contracts within our facilities,” Ghorbani said, laughing. “And to think this oversteps that is really concerning to me.”
County officials called Maloy’s bill “highly imputative” when it came to its penalties. If a local official is found to have “knowingly and willfully” violated the statute, a court could block the measure and order a fine of up to $500 for each day the city or county is in violation. Further, violation could also be cause for termination of employment or even removal from office.
“Whether you agree with what the Legislature is doing here as a policy or matter or not, the ramifications for the county could be significant,” said Darcy Goddard, chief civil policy advisor in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, a Republican who is running to be Utah’s next governor, spoke against the council’s resolution to oppose Maloy’s bill, arguing county officials take more time on the bill before taking a position.
“When I think we’re talking about constitutionally protected rights I think it’s a different story,” Winder Newton said. “I have issue with one elected official being able to make a unilateral decision that impacts constitutionally protected rights.”
Ultimately the County Council resolution passed — narrowly.
Still, Maloy is moving ahead with his bill, unsurprised and unperturbed by the council’s opposition alongside Wilson.
“I’m really not that worried or concerned about that opposition,” Maloy said.
He’s confident his bill will get through the Utah Legislature.
“You never know for sure until it’s done,” he said, “but I think it has some good momentum for all the right reasons.”