By Josh Smith
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010 12:14 a.m. MST
SALT LAKE CITY — More guns may be making appearances in confrontations across Utah, adding intensity, for better or worse.
Newly proposed legislation would be a green light for concealed-gun owners to openly carry firearms and, if threatened, draw or exhibit their weapons and verbally threaten deadly force.
Depending on whom you ask, that gun-induced intensity could defuse confrontations more quickly, or it could lead to more deadly violence.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said HB78 clarifies existing law with "affirmative language" that would provide gun owners another option to defend themselves or others around them.
"This allows a gun owner to not have to go all the way and actually fire his gun," Sandstrom said. "This would still be the very last resort, however. It doesn't give you the right to just flash a gun at anyone who makes you mad."
The proposal officially allows Utahns to openly carry firearms and inform others that they are carrying a gun, not currently illegal, but not codified in law. The bill only applies to individuals who have concealed weapons permits, and "brandishing" a gun for anything less than self-defense will still be illegal.
Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian said he worked to develop the new legislative language and dismissed concerns about increased gun violence.
"This really doesn't alter what's allowed under current law," he said. "Rather, it sanctions a less-than-deadly alternative to actually shooting a gun. No one has ever died from just having a gun pointed at them."
Gun-control advocate Steven Gunn, a board member at the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, called the new language "ridiculous."
Guns act as an "accelerant" in confrontations, he said.
"Firearms can cause violence when violence would not have occurred," Gunn said. "We need to ask ourselves if human life is important to us."
As with another proposed bill, which would exempt Utah-made firearms from federal laws, Sandstrom said his bill is based on Montana gun laws.
Last year, Sandstrom sponsored legislation that made it legal to conceal loaded weapons in a vehicle without a permit. That bill passed with overwhelming support in the Legislature, although polls later indicated public opposition to the new law.
Sandstrom said he thinks residents misunderstood that legislation, and he said he has only ever heard support for his pro-gun stance.
The two-term representative, a member of the National Rifle Association, said he often carries a concealed weapon and considers himself a "Second Amendment purist," and he reiterated the gun-rights mantra that if "guns rights are restricted, only lawbreakers will have guns."
Gunn said he has testified on Capitol Hill before but said it is too early to know if he will specifically speak against this legislation.
To read the bill, go to: le.utah.gov/~2010/bills/hbillint/HB0078.htm.