Utah bill would boost penalties for DV offenders violating gun restrictions

Feb 12, 2024, 6:50 PM | Updated: Feb 13, 2024, 7:15 am

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah lawmaker says she’s concerned about domestic violence killings in the state and wants to help protect those most at risk.

“Every single one is such a tragedy,” Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, said of Utahns killed in their own homes. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

The Provo Republican wants the law to come down harder on domestic violence offenders illegally holding on to their guns. She points out that current Utah law has stiffer penalties for someone caught with a firearm while on probation for drug possession.

“We do want to protect people’s Second Amendment rights, but people do things that cause them to lose those rights every day,” Judkins said.

Her pending legislative proposal would bump up potential prison time for Utahns violating weapons restrictions tied to their felony domestic violence convictions or because of a current protective order involving an intimate partner or child.

These violations are a third-degree felony, carrying up to five years in prison. Judkins’ bill would raise them to a second-degree felony, with one to 15 years in prison.

Some criminal defense attorneys have pushed back on the measure, saying the current restrictions go far enough.

“Increasing penalties is one of the least effective methods of deterrence,” said Steve Burton with the Utah Defense Attorney Association.

One solution could be to focus on awareness for defendants convicted of certain crimes, Burton said, and emphasize that those convictions mean they can’t lawfully keep their guns.

Judkin’s proposal would make another change, reducing the penalty for undocumented Utahns found in possession of a gun.

“I thought that was appropriate if you have not proven yourself to be a danger to society,” Judkins said.

Prosecutor Ryan Robinson, who helped Judkins craft the bill, said he hopes it reminds police that enforcing these domestic violence gun restrictions is a priority.

“I think as much as educating offenders that they shouldn’t have firearms, it’s reminding our local law enforcement that this deserves resources,” said Robinson, the chief prosecuting attorney for West Valley City. “It deserves detective work, it deserves search warrants – the things that you do for serious cases that you may not have the resources to do for every case.”

Police spend more time and energy on more serious crimes, he noted, so if the bill passes, they’ll likely focus more heavily on these cases. Judkins said the added attention can only help.

“I truly believe it would save lives,” she said.

The bill has not yet had a hearing at the state Capitol.

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Utah bill would boost penalties for DV offenders violating gun restrictions