Utah lawmakers delay vote on gun law pushback bill

Mathew Chappell, left, carries his Ruger Mini 30, as he speaks with Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, following a guns bill hearing Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers heard several bills dealing with guns Wednesday afternoon, including proposals that get rid the need for a concealed carry permit and declare that Utah alone is able to regulate firearms in the state. One of the most controversial proposals in the Legislature this year says the regulation of guns is reserved to the state. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

<strong>SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -</strong> Utah lawmakers have once again delayed voting on a bill that declares Utah alone is able to regulate firearms in the state.

The proposal is one of the most debated in the Legislature this year, and legislative attorneys and critics said it’s very likely a court will find the law unconstitutional if it passes.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, said the measure is an assertion of state’s rights and individual liberty, and he doesn’t believe it’s unconstitutional.

The bill was discussed during hearings Wednesday and Friday, but lawmakers ran out of time to call for a vote. Lawmakers are expected to take the bill up again next week.

Lawmakers in at least 16 other states have introduced similar legislation in response to President Barack Obama’s call for increased gun control after recent mass shootings.

In January, Obama signed executive orders addressing mental health issues and providing authorities more training, among other provisions. Other proposals, which would need to be passed by Congress, call for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The plan has attracted strong criticism from gun rights supporters.

Utah lawmakers say their legislation, which declares any federal law limiting gun rights unenforceable, is necessary to push back against federal overreach and defend the U.S. Constitution. But such measures, which make it a state crime to enforce federal law, have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Greene’s bill originally said that any federal officer who attempts to take guns away from Utah residents could be arrested by local law enforcement and charged with a felony.

Lawmakers stripped that language from the bill earlier in the week after expressing concerns that it could lead to a chaotic situation, with federal and local law enforcement squaring off while an agent is confronting someone accused of having an illegal firearm.

Greene said his bill was not an attempt to “eliminate common sense regulations” and goal was not to arrest federal officers.

“It’s a reaffirmation of state sovereignty and individual liberty in an effort to establish clear jurisdictional lines across which we as a state will not tolerate federal intrusion,” Greene said during debate Wednesday.

The House Judiciary Committee heard from members of the public Friday morning.

Supporters of the bill told lawmakers that it protects Utah citizens from a government that is encroaching on their freedom.

“What this bill means to me and many others is that we do not agree with the power grab in Washington,” said Brett Butler, of Draper.

Siri Davidson, of Payson, told lawmakers that liberty “means everything to me,” and broke down in tears while reading a poem about the armed forces and freedom.

Critics told lawmakers that the bill sends a bad message and would waste taxpayer money when the state has to defend it in court.

“We should be putting our money into things that we know will help people … and not lawsuits that we know the state will lose,” said Jean Hill with Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Steve Gunn, with Utah’s Gun Violence Prevention Center, said if Utah residents don’t like a federal law or feel it’s unconstitutional, they should obey it until it’s struck down by a court.

“The bill rejects the rule of law, and you should reject the bill,” he said.

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