A look at Utah gun laws, and why some lawmakers want focus to stay on education

May 25, 2022, 7:54 PM | Updated: 9:29 pm

How do Utah’s gun laws compare to the rest of the nation? It depends on who you ask.

Organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence would say it’s a weak point for the Beehive State.

And according to statistics each website lays out, the numbers aren’t the worst in the country, but they aren’t the best either.

“We’ve ranked it about the 17th worst state in the country for gun laws,” said Allison Anderman, senior counsel, and director of local policy at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “And it has a correspondingly high gun death rate. It’s about 20th in the nation.”

The center’s website breaks down what’s on the books in Utah, and what it isn’t.

According to the center, Utah has several gun laws worth noting:

  • Domestic violence gun laws
  • Certain open carry regulations
  • Certain child access prevention laws
  • Extended background check period
  • State database background checks

But, Anderman explained, there are many more they recommend:

  • Universal background checks
  • Gun owner licensing
  • Extreme risk protection orders
  • Assault weapon restrictions
  • Large capacity magazine ban
  • Waiting periods
  • Strong concealed carry law
  • Lost and stolen firearm reporting

Anderman said extreme risk protection orders allow a court to temporarily prohibit a person’s access to guns if they can be shown as being at a high risk of committing violence.

She said laws that require a person to get a permit to purchase or own a firearm, are associated with significantly reduced rates of homicide or suicide.

The background check system, she continued, has prevented millions of people from legally acquiring firearms each year.

Anderman stressed that there’s a strong correlation between gun access and gun suicide, because someone in a moment of crisis is more likely to end up using a gun if they have easy access to one.

“We have data to show that most of the policies that we advocate for are effective at reducing gun deaths, whether those are gun homicides, gun suicides, mass shootings,” she said.

State Representative Steve Eliason (R-Sandy) brought up another statistic when looking at gun deaths and gun violence in Utah.

“The number one cause of death for children in Utah is suicide, and typically that’s a firearm,” he said.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, which compiled CDC numbers  and averaged them out between 2016 to 2020, 83 percent of gun deaths in Utah were from suicide. 13 percent were homicide. Police shootings accounted for two percent of Utah gun deaths, with the remaining two percent being attributed to unintentional, or undetermined.

It’s that statistic Eliason has zeroed in on as a lawmaker, saying he takes an education approach for parents.

“There also have been numerous instances of school shootings where the shooter used their parent’s firearm that they had access to,” he said. “So, continuing the education about safely storing firearms, we’ve distributed hundreds of thousands of trigger locks, biometric gun safes– is something that we know that works.”

He said they’ve put a lot of resources into mental health aspects like school counselors, school psychologists, social workers, and the SafeUT app.

When asked if he thinks there are any laws Utah could pass or any legislation he thought was missing in relation to gun safety, Eliason said what the state can improve upon is continuing to educate parents to safely lock firearms away.

“When parents understand, ‘I can protect my child by safely securing my firearm,’” he said, “that’s when we’re going to see an even greater reduction in youth firearm deaths.”

One Utah Senator has proposed a bill, he believes, will cut down on gun violence. Utah Senator Derek Kitchen says now is the time to act. “Thoughts and prayers?” says Kitchen. “I’m sick of thoughts and prayers, we need action.”

His bill would increase the age to purchase a firearm in Utah from 18 to 21-years old. He says the people he represents want it, and he says research backs it.

“This morning I had a friend come to me sobbing,” says Kitchen. “She dropped her three-year-old off at daycare, looking him in the eyes, knowing that she could not protect him.”

While Kitchen says hit bill is simple, others aren’t willing to talk about changes to gun laws in the state. Representative Steve Eliason says the problem isn’t the guns, the problem likes in storage, education and mental health.

“Continuing the education about safely storing firearms, is a big part of Eliason’s solution. “We’ve distributed hundreds of thousands of trigger locks, biometric gun safes, it’s something we know that works.”

Everytown research, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country breaks down gun-law rankings by state on criteria like: domestic violence gun laws, certain open carry regulations, certain child access prevention laws and state database background checks.

Allison Anderman with Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence says Utah *doesn’t have many laws in place that would cut down on gun deaths. Things that include universal background checks, gun owner licensing, lost and stolen firearm reporting or extreme risk-protection orders. According to Anderman, those are all proven to lower gun violence.“We have data to show that most the policies we advocate for are effective at reducing gun deaths,” says Anderman.

Also, according to Giffords: a study of offenders incarcerated for crimes with firearms found that 17-percent wouldn’t have had access to a gun if the legal purchase age would have been 21. Data also suggests 18-20 year-olds account for only 4% of the U.S. population, but account for 17% of homicides.

Kitchen believes, if passed, his bill would save lives.

“We have a strong gun lobby in the United States and, at this point, we need to make sure we are protecting our children as firmly as we are protecting our guns.”

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A look at Utah gun laws, and why some lawmakers want focus to stay on education