Firearms are the leading cause of death among children and teens in Utah. This disturbing fact underscores the need for more effective gun control laws in our state. However, due to a twisted interpretation of the Second Amendment, our state lawmakers refuse to act on gun violence prevention. Instead of continuing to move in the wrong direction, our state leaders should implement effective gun control measures that protect innocent lives.
The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The amendment originally referred to the military activities of state militias, as the anti-Federalists were worried that these part-time militias would be disarmed by a central army. For years, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no individual right to gun ownership. Then in 1977, the NRA, originally founded by Union soldiers, was taken over by conservatives who fully embraced the individual right to carry firearms. The NRA’s efforts, as well as a study of the Senate Judiciary Committee commissioned by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), argued that the individual right to firearm possession for self-defense had always existed. This argument picked up steam and eventually led to the Supreme Court’s transformational ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), cementing the individual right to gun ownership for self-defense.
Ever since Hatch’s findings and the Supreme Court’s decision in Heller, Utah politicians have been afraid to pass common-sense gun control laws lest they be voted out by those with the most extreme views on the Second Amendment. However, these politicians should care more about saving the lives of future generations than being voted out of their positions. Instead of protecting teenagers like me, the Utah Legislature passed several bills last session expanding gun rights. It banned the state from enforcing federal restrictions on firearms, voted down a bill that would have created a ten-day waiting period for the purchase of assault rifles, rejected a five-day waiting period for all gun purchases, and voted down bills criminalizing weapons with filed-off serial numbers and ensuring that firearms are stored properly.
Instead of running scared from Second Amendment enthusiasts, Utah lawmakers should look at legislation that has been effective in other states and implement it, such as red flag laws (also commonly known as extreme risk protection orders) and expanded background checks for all gun purchases. Utah lawmakers have rejected efforts to pass red flag laws three times in recent years. Notably, this goes against the will of a majority of Utah citizens, as 72 percent of Utahns support red flag laws according to a 2022 Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. Additionally, these laws have proven to be effective in other states, as they temporarily remove firearms from those regarded as a threat to themselves and others. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, red flag laws have prevented mass shooting and decreased the percentage of firearm suicides in the states where they have already been implemented. Due to their effectiveness, the Justice Department has even given over 200 million dollars to the states in order to help states administer these laws as part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the gun control package passed by the Senate after last year’s Uvalde tragedy. By enacting these laws, Utah lawmakers can help prevent dangerous weapons from being obtained by criminals and others deemed public safety risks.
In Utah, an average of 41 children and teens die by guns each year. It’s time for the Utah Legislature to take this federal funding and use it to pass red flag laws and other common-sense gun control laws that will protect kids’ lives. If you feel that Utah lawmaker’s current inaction on gun violence largely due to misinterpretations of the Second Amendment is failing us, reach out to your Utah state representatives and encourage them to pass red flag laws and other common-sense gun control measures.