The bill would also prevent a political subdivision of the state from enforcing federal firearms regulations enacted after Jan. 1 if the state has not also adopted that law.
“This will be great for the people of Utah,” Maloy argued before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday. “It clears up a lot of ambiguity as it relates to what political subdivisions can and can’t do.”
The effort to clarify the bounds of firearm regulations comes after Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson issued an executive order in 2019 to force background checks at gun shows as part of an effort to close what’s commonly known as the gun show “loophole.” Previously, sales between two private parties didn’t require a background check.
“We own [and] operate convention facilities and set the terms for any vendor,” she told lawmakers Monday, adding that the provision requiring background checks has worked “fairly well” so far.
SMG, the county contractor that runs the Mountain America Expo Center, had in the past imposed without incident other restrictions on gun shows, including prohibitions on magazines inside firearms and on patrons loading and unloading firearms inside the venue, the mayor’s office has said previously.
Wilson also argued Monday that she was “following the will of people in my county,” noting that past opinion polls have shown wide support among Utahns for background checks.
But while some gun control groups have praised the mayor’s move to require these background checks, the order has been met with frustration among some gun activists who question whether her decision was legal under state law.
Others proponents of the bill, including National Rifle Association representative Dan Reid, said it would help ensure “consistency in firearm laws throughout the state.”
Maloy noted that the version of his proposal that he ran last year was drafted before the county moved to require background checks and that this bill is not meant to target any particular local government but would affect all of them equally.
If ultimately approved, the bill would make clear that authority to regulate firearms is reserved for the state, unless specifically authorized by the Legislature by statute. There are a few exceptions, including an allowance for homeless shelters to prohibit guns within their walls and for law enforcement agencies to enforce regulations for firearms used by their officers in the course of their official duties.
A local authority that violates the state’s preemption rules could face litigation, and a court could order the ordinance void and issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the local agency from enforcing it.
Another provision included in the bill would prevent a political subdivision of the state from enforcing federal firearm regulations enacted after Jan. 1 if the state has not also adopted that law. The bill would create a process within the attorney general’s office for investigating complaints related to that preemption and any entity that violated that rule could lose state dollars.
“We’ve really relaxed those laws here in Utah to provide for medical marijuana, but most of the actions that take place in that new industry here in Utah are against federal law,” he noted. “And the federal agencies pretty much don’t enforce those. And so we feel like it’s going to be very, very similar to that.”
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said ahead of his vote that he recognizes that the state constitution provides authority for the Legislature to regulate firearms. But he expressed concern that the bill would wipe out “a very reasonable and well supported action by Salt Lake County” to ensure guns don’t get into the wrong hands.
“I just don’t think that it’s a good move in the name of public safety to restrict the ability of the county to do that,” he said, noting that he would not be able to support the bill for that reason.