There was a period of dead air in the House chamber before Representative Curt Oda (Republican – Clearfield) was allowed to end the orderly debate, and there was never any real threat to his disorderly conduct amendments bill known as HB 276. There were no substitutes, no amendments in committee or on the floor, just a few questions by those with concerns about who had overseen the legislation and how it would change existing law.
Indeed, the bill was introduced on a Tuesday, blasted through the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, Rules Committee, and received its second reading on a Friday, making the bill’s velocity from introduction to passing the entire House a mere 4 working days.
Citing the assault rifle being carried openly at the University Mall in Orem a year ago, and a similar situation inside a legislative committee a few days later, Oda’s bill would allow a person who is carrying a deadly weapon to be held harmless for “the mere carrying or possession of a holstered or encased firearm, whether visible or concealed, without additional behavior or circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the holstered or encased firearm was carried or possessed unlawfully or with criminal intent.”
HB 276 seeks to change the way that Utah law puts the burden on the public instead of with the person who has the deadly weapon. If there is no underlying behavior or statement that would indicate a threat, there would be no ability for local jurisdictions to use a disorderly conduct charge in relation to having a firearm in a public situation. “Man with a gun” calls to the police would then need to be handled with great care by law enforcement.
Oda noted that a similar version of his bill died in the Senate last year and that “we just need to get this done.” Oda said that this bill was about “protecting the citizen, and does not restrict any reasonable action under the 4th Amendment by any police officer,” if a person who is displaying the firearm is not acting in a threatening manner or issuing verbal threats.
Representative Earl Tanner (Republican – West Jordan) rose in opposition to the bill in order to say that though he felt that displaying a firearm is a form of speech, and that when one is displayed in a place where it is not expected to be seen, it is inherently disruptive. “By passing this bill, we are going to be saying… that everybody has to be perfectly comfortable seeing a weapon anyplace.”
Furthering the question, Representative Merrill Nelson (Republican – Grantsville) asked, “If we have someone come into a legislative hearing, carrying a rifle, is that disorderly conduct?” To which Oda replied, “If they do it to make that kind of a political statement, and they’re trying to raise concern, it very well could be. This bill does not prevent a situation like that from being considered to be that.”
In his summation, Oda presented the bill as one that maintained state control of firearms legislation and allowed law enforcement to assess the intent of the individual being charged, but that by mere presence of a gun does not constitute disorderly conduct.
Representative Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper) supported the bill saying that merely “following the law” cannot be interpreted as “disturbing the peace.” Before the vote was made, Oda finalized by saying, “This protects the citizens from the police.” The vote was 54-17 and was forwarded to the Senate with a little more than 72 hours remaining in the session.