As UtahPolicy.com and Y2 Analytics runs through comprehensive polling results on several gun control issues, GOP legislative leaders say the time may be right for lawmakers to debate gun control in the 2020 Legislature.
While House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, may not be enthusiastic about such a debate, “We do not shy away from tough debates” or decisions, Wilson told UtahPolicy.com on Friday.
“I’m confident we will” have some gun control bills before the 2020 Legislature, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told UtahPolicy.com
Both leaders said their real concern about state gun policy is that something is done -- if anything is done at all -- that will address gun violence.
“We need not just swing at the leaves, but get down to the roots,” Wilson added.
For example, while nearly 90 percent of Utah voters “strongly support” or “support” background checks on ALL gun sales, Wilson points out that we already have background checks on commercial sales, either at gun stores or via registered gun sellers at gun shows.
“What we are really talking about is private gun sales,” said Wilson, that are exempt from background checks. And most of those happen among family members and friends, with a small percent by strangers selling guns to other strangers.
Will background checks on private gun sales between people who know each other really address gun violence, especially mass shootings? Wilson asks.
These gun control measures are “tough” questions among politicians. And they are “tough” issues for politicians to make decisions on, Wilson admits.
But the 2020 Legislature will likely have to deal with them, as Wilson imagines there will be bills introduced on these matters, especially with the high-profile mass shootings that have happened over the summer, as were the Walmart murders in El Paso, Texas.
Last week, asked for a response to the Y2 question on extending background checks to all gun sales, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s office said: “Gov. Herbert agrees with the majority of Utahns that we need to do something to strengthen background checks to make sure that guns don’t get into the hands of those who intend to do innocent people harm.
“We are also interested in other reforms, and will actively work with state and federal policymakers to enact change.”
Adams said he has no opinion on background checks or other gun issues. “I will need to study more,” he said.
The Democratic presidential candidates are talking gun control -- with one saying in the Thursday night debate that he wants to take military-style semi-automatic rifles away from current gun owners.
And gun control and gun violence will be a political debate in the presidential election next year, that much is clear.
Utah will not have a U.S. Senate election next year, but there will be a crowded GOP gubernatorial campaign, elections for the four Utah U.S. House seats, and all of the 75-member state House is up as is half of the 29-member Senate.
Herbert will retire at the end of 2020.
There was a red-flag bill sponsored by a House Republican in the 2019 Legislature -- which would have allowed a judge to temporarily take away the guns of a troubled person if he was deemed a danger to himself or others.
But that bill didn’t even get a public hearing, GOP leaders deciding not to take time on it.
Whether other such gun bills can be bottled up in House and Senate GOP Rules Committees in 2020 is yet to be seen.
Gun violence -- even the issue of increasing violence in American society in general -- is a real issue, said Wilson.
But there is too much at stake to just pass some bill that, in reality, will do little or nothing to stop gun violence and call it good, he added.
Adams said there is “destructive behavior” though out society.
“These (mass shooting) killings are a tripwire” that have gotten the public’s attention, he said.
What is the good of requiring background checks on all or many private sales if that does little or nothing to stop gun violence? Wilson asks.
However, the Y2 polling results show that most Utahns -- and in many cases, most Republicans -- want some kind of gun violence actions to take place.
These include extending background checks, banning sales of AR-15 military-type semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines that allow a shooter to kill quickly and wound a large number of people.
Congress did ban military-style semi-automatic rifle sales in the U.S. from 1994 to 2004, with mixed results on the impact of gun violence and mass shootings during that time, experts say.