I used to hate guns with a passion. At an earlier stage in my life, I might have sided with local legislators quoted by the Transcript-Bulletin as saying they plan to vote against House Bill 49 (“Tobacco, guns and education dominate first legislative session,” Feb. 14).
Today, however, I respectfully ask they vote for it.
HB 49 clarifies that in the absence of additional threatening behavior, the otherwise lawful possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, whether visible or concealed, is not a violation of Utah statutes such as disturbing the peace. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, decided to sponsor the bill after getting several complaints from constituents who were being ticketed for disorderly conduct just because they were openly carrying their guns — which is legal in Utah.
There are other documented cases in the state. There’s the 2009 case — caught on video — of a Utah Valley University student and concealed weapons permit holder who was harassed by campus police into concealing his weapon or facing arrest for trespassing if he returned to campus, and for disturbing the peace.
Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, and Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, as well as Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park essentially said at the Feb. 13 Tooele County legislative caucus meeting they want police officers to have this ability to ask people to conceal their weapons in public, even though openly carrying a firearm in a non-threatening way is perfectly legal.
“Say somebody walks into a drug store carrying a gun openly,” Menlove said. “Do other customers draw their weapons until they know what the person is doing?”
In other words, the mere sight of a gun is something to fear.
That was a sentiment I used to feel growing up in the Philippines, where some people celebrated New Year’s Eve by shooting machine guns into the air. For me, a defining moment was when an intoxicated relative shoved a revolver’s cold, heavy grip in my hands and insisted I learn to use it so I could protect myself from criminals. After that incident, I couldn’t think about or look at a gun without breaking into a cold sweat.
Then I married an NRA-card-carrying hunter.
My husband comes from a Utah family with a long tradition of shooting sports. They hunt ducks, pheasant and deer in the fall. A few years into our marriage, I decided enough was enough. I wanted to be able to pass, without heart palpitations, the guns my husband would lay out on our bed for his next hunting trip, so I enrolled in a gun safety course.
In doing so, I discovered some interesting things.
First, guns don’t discharge automatically. Someone has to pull the trigger. Second, shooting guns for sport is not an oxymoron. And third, owning a gun is a powerful right that must be treated with respect.
A few years later, my then 12-year old son took a hunter safety course. I couldn’t be a prouder mom, watching him learn how to handle a rifle responsibly. That he could be ticketed simply for openly carrying a gun in public, unless HB 49 passes into law, is worrisome to me.
I understand why guns openly carried in public might inspire fear. But when law-abiding citizens respectfully exercising their Second Amendment right are carrying the guns, they deserve the protection of HB 49.
Jewel Punzalan Allen is a long-time journalist who lives in Grantsville. She blogs at pink-ink-pink.blogspot.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.