SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers in an "extraordinary session" on Wednesday approved two resolutions to declare support for Utahns' Second Amendment rights and support for "exploring the possibility of declaring Utah a Second Amendment sanctuary" state.
The resolutions, approved separately by the House and Senate, came in response to growing concerns from constituents that the federal government under President Joe Biden's administration would infringe on their Second Amendment rights.
"There's been significant public outcry," Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said in a media availability earlier Wednesday afternoon, before the votes. "The Legislature is concerned as well."
But when asked by a reporter which federal policies Utah lawmakers are concerned about, Vickers said, "right now, admittedly, there are none."
"But unfortunately, there's been some saber rattling in Washington, D.C., and people are concerned in Utah about someone coming in and taking away guns and restricting the use of guns on the federal level," Vickers added. "So this simply sets up a process where we can be in place and have a policy in place that we can protect those rights if and when that happens."
In the resolutions, legislators pledged they "take seriously (their) role to protect and defend the rights enshrined in the Utah Constitution and the United States Constitution, including the right to keep and bear arms." They also pledged support for "robust statutory protections from federal or other actions to ensure citizens of the state maintain their constitutional right to keep and bear arms."
The resolutions go on to state the Utah House and Senate support "continued discussion of and legislative action on how to strengthen state law to provide better protection for those exercising constitutional rights, including the establishment of Utah as a 'Second Amendment Sanctuary state.'"
Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, sponsored the House resolution. On the House floor, she said the federal government "through international agreements, executive orders, and congressional action threaten the fundamental right to self-defense of every American."
"This resolution calls for further conversations surrounding the Second Amendment sanctuary state policy, as well as other policies that protect the Second Amendment rights of all Utahns," she said. "Our citizens in Utah expect us to stand between them and the federal government."
On the House floor, Democrats walked out in protest ahead of the vote on the Second Amendment sanctuary resolution, along with a resolution to ban certain critical race theory concepts that lawmakers deemed harmful, which drew the most heated debate and controversy to Utah's Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
That's even though Gov. Spencer Cox decided against including both critical race theory and the Second Amendment sanctuary issue on Wednesday's special session agenda, which was mainly called to adjust Utah's budget to accept about $1.6 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds and to handle other legislation. Cox opted not, despite interest from GOP lawmakers, because he argued the hot-button issues "would benefit from more time, thought, dialogue and input."
However, legislative leaders called their own extraordinary sessions to act separately on two resolutions. Thanks to a 2018 voter-approved, constitutional amendment, the Legislature can call itself into a special session during an emergency — but that's not a provision House or Senate leaders are invoking for this session. Because they only considered resolutions, which are nonbinding messages as opposed to a potential new state law, legislative legal counsel determined the bodies had the ability to call their own extraordinary sessions for both the critical race theory and Second Amendment matters.