Comparing laws from every state, the study placed Utah 37th on its list, finding that it “lacks every foundational gun violence prevention law and has the eighth-highest rate of gun suicide.”
The ranking took into account a wide range of policies, including laws that were considered “foundational,” as well as those regulating the gun industry and public safety, guns in public, keeping guns out of the wrong hands, policing and civil rights, and sales and permitting.
“All states should start with a core group of five foundational laws — passing background checks and/or purchase permitting, along with Extreme Risk laws and secure gun storage requirements; and rejecting Stand Your Ground and permitless carry laws,” the report states.
While Utah does not currently regulate any of those things, it does have laws prohibiting felons, domestic abusers and those who have been involuntarily committed, or have been found to be a danger to themself or others, from obtaining guns, according to the study.
It also has laws requiring “officials to report prohibiting records into the background check system” and requiring notification to law enforcement of attempts to procure guns by prohibited individuals. Utahns also cannot buy guns while background checks are being completed.
However, the state has loosened certain gun control measures in recent years, and the State Legislature passed a law in 2021 quashing the requirement that Utahns have a permit before carrying a concealed weapon.
On Tuesday, a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead. It was the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, according to the Associated Press. Texas was ranked 34th on the study’s list.
Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, sponsored Utah’s concealed carry bill, and told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that he doesn’t believe his legislation, which doesn’t affect how guns are distributed or procured, would have been impacted by the shooting.
While saying he would look carefully at future gun bills that come before the Legislature, he believes mass shootings are born of complex issues not solvable by limiting access to guns.
“I’m not sure that the gun control part of it is the solution,” he said, “or will actually give us benefits that we’re looking for. We all want to stop these type of horrendous events from happening.”
He specifically mentioned mental health, social media and how society handles bullying as factors that need more attention.
“If we want to make an impact to stop these events, I think we need to focus on individual behaviors,” he said. “… The easier the solution, the less we understand the problem.”
State Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights — who is also a teacher — agreed with her colleague that mental health should be a priority but also believes that lawmakers should be doing more to control firearms.
Assault rifles are the one common denominator among mass shootings, she said, and she believes legislative action needs to be taken to regulate them. However, when asked if she thought the Texas school shooting would spur change, she was doubtful.
“It’s just a matter of buying time,” she said. “… It’s [a shooting is] going to happen. That’s how all of us feel right now, if nothing changes. So it’s very sad for me to have to say those things, and I say them with a lot of remorse. But I don’t feel that there’s a lot of hope right now if we’re not going to do anything to change.”
Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, announced Wednesday that he’d opened a bill file that would raise the minimum firearm-buying age in Utah from 18 to 21. But he, too, acknowledged the difficulty of passing gun control legislation in the state.
“Right now you have an obstructionist Republican supermajority that refuses to take action,” he said. “This is an opportunity for them to get on board and protect our communities.”
According to the study, Utah was near the national average for deaths due to gun violence, with 13.6 deaths per 100,000 residents. Mississippi, which ranked 50th in its strength of law, had the highest gun violence rate at 28.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents, while Hawaii had the lowest at 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000. The Aloha State was ranked behind only California in the strength of its gun laws.
The study also grouped states into various tiers based on the overall strength of their laws. “National leaders” — or the states with the most stringent gun rules — averaged 7.4 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. On the other end, “national failures” — or states with the weakest laws — averaged 20 gun deaths per 100,000.
The report classified Utah as a “weak system,” the second-to-lowest tier, and the state was one spot away from joining the “national failures” tier.
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.