SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to a law that would establish the Legislature as the sole authority to regulate gun rights statewide.
The bill seeks to establish uniform firearms law on public and private property -- and along the way forbid any gun bans on Utah public university campuses.
Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Waddoups said he didn't like the idea of guns in churches or at schools, but until criminals no longer threatened citizens in any venue, carrying concealed firearms would be necessary.
"Don't take (firearms) away from me until you take them away from criminals," said bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Mike Waddoups, R-West Jordan. "We're certainly not restricting criminals from walking across the campuses. Happens all the time."
The bill will have to be debated once more before passing the Senate, which could come as early as Tuesday.
Earlier this month the Utah Board of Regents asked a Senate committee to be allowed to continue to let universities set their own policy regarding guns on campus. As an alternative, the regents said the state might designate the institutions as sanctuaries, similar to religious organizations in the state, which have been allowed to determine their own gun policies.
At the time, Waddoups said the board has been given much responsibility over the years to deal with the issue but had failed.
Waddoups sponsored the bill after a state court ruling held the University of Utah could enforce a policy prohibiting employees and students from bringing lawfully concealed weapons on campus.
The measure would stop "all state entities and local authorities," including public colleges and schools, from making gun regulations. Private property owners can ban guns in their own homes, but not, say, in a business or mall open to the public. Private schools and universities, including Brigham Young University, are exempted.
BYU representative Tom Griffiths told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6 that the school's gun ban aided public safety on its campus. Griffiths said he was speaking to the committee on behalf of a request made by the University of Utah and was not there to comment on the bill but just to share the policy.
During Monday's debate, lawmakers struck lines in Waddoups' bill that appeared to take away people's rights to restrict guns in their own homes.
Democratic Sen. Patrice Arent of Murray asked what public need would be served to allow guns on campuses. Salt Lake City Democrat Sen. Karen Hale, responding to the argument that applicants for concealed weapon permits have to be law-abiding citizens, pointed out that since 1994, over 1,000 concealed carry permits have been revoked.
But Sen. Lyle Hillyard said the debate was missing the bill's central point: Gun laws should be uniform across the state. If a town or university wanted an exemption, it would have to appeal to the Legislature. "If we want to exempt people, that's a second step," said Hillyard, R-Logan.
Sen. Dave Thomas, R-Ogden, acknowledged surveys that show an overwhelming number of Utah residents don't want guns on campuses. "I think many of us don't think guns belong in school. I don't," he said.
"The question is process," Thomas said. "Instead of the University of Utah coming to the Legislature for an exemption, they sued. ... Is that really the way we want the process to work?"
Third District Judge Robert Hilder ruled in August that the University of Utah firearms ban was legal. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said if Waddoups' bill passes, he will drop his appeal of the state court's ruling filed last month.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)