A bill that would prevent cities and counties in Utah from implementing tougher restrictions on firearm sales received a nod from the Utah House Judiciary Committee on Monday.

The Utah State Legislature is the only governing body that can regulate firearms as a way “to provide uniform civil and criminal firearm laws throughout the state,” according to Utah Code, which further states that local authorities and state entities “may not enact, establish, or enforce any ordinance, regulation, rule, or policy pertaining to firearms that in any way inhibits or restricts the possession or use of firearms on either public or private property.”

House Bill 76, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, and Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, would clarify that the Legislature has preempted the field of firearm regulation and create the Firearms Preemption Enforcement Act, providing for remedies and civil action “for a violation of legislative preemption,” Maloy told lawmakers Monday.

Additionally, the bill would provide “that Utah will not enforce certain federal firearm regulations that come into place after Jan. 1, 2021,” according to Maloy, who introduced a similar bill during the 2020 general session, when it passed through the House but was never voted on by the Senate.

Maloy emphasized the importance of having state lawmakers regulate firearms “so there’s continuity throughout the state” and so gun owners “don’t have to go into Salt Lake County and wonder if (they are) going to be breaking the law or not.”

In December 2019, Salt Lake County approved a policy change requiring anyone attempting to buy a firearm at Salt Lake County’s Mountain America Expo Center or other county-owned facilities to undergo a federal background check, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, spoke during Monday’s committee hearing and said 79% of county residents who responded to a 2020 survey said they supported background checks at gun shows.

“We are very committed at Salt Lake County to safety and are following the will of people in my county,” Wilson said.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, acknowledged that the state has the authority to regulate firearms but added that he was “very concerned” about “wiping out a very reasonable and very well-supported action by the Salt Lake County to extend, in a very modest and reasonable way, background checks to ensure that guns shouldn’t get into the hands of… individuals who shouldn’t have them.”

“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,” King said.

Cameron Diehl, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, spoke in opposition to the bill, noting that the legislation “could actually create a chilling effect” around ordinances “that are consistent with the existing preemption,” such as ordinances regulating firearm discharge.

Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian spoke in favor of the bill and said “the obvious legislative intent has been that the state and only the state shall make laws pertaining to all aspects of firearms.”

The bill is also supported by Salt Lake County Councilmember Laurie Stringham, a Republican, who said “gun rights and preemption is something that we really need to talk about at the state level so it can be vetted properly.”

The House Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 to give a favorable recommendation to the bill.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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