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Posted: 7/13/2001 10:42:58 AM EST
OPINION: When People Want It, It Won't Go Away By Doug Holm Conventional wisdom has it that Utah’s pro-gun Legislature won’t be tinkering with the state’s gun laws any time soon. Of course, there are some egregious exceptions to such ordinary thinking—the most interesting of which being Rep. Matt Throckmorton’s effort to return gun rights to the mentally ill during the last legislative session. Still, most Utahns would probably conclude that Utah’s gun laws will continue to be the most permissive in the nation for some time to come. But while current local news reports may be focusing on the Olympics, “sky-rocketing energy costs” and other cliché stories, yesterday’s gun issue is quietly preparing for a comeback that won’t be limited to editorial pages. Word on the street among several Salt Lake politicos is that last year’s failed “Safe to Learn Safe to Worship” ballot initiative is not only alive and well, but may be the winning political head-liner in 2002. You will remember that during the 1995 legislative session, Utah’s senators and representatives decided to make a great leap away from the Old West ways of leaving one’s holster at the door when attending a church service or a dance at the social hall. By enacting some interesting changes in Utah’s Code, the Legislature not only made it much easier for a citizen to obtain what is known as a “concealed-carry permit,” they also challenged the foundations of private-property law and an even older legal precedent known as common sense. Overnight, pastors, bishops, principals and private homeowners were finding themselves with the prospect of having unwanted weapons brought into places traditionally expected to be free of firearms. In an effort to bring some sanity back to Utah’s gun laws, a coalition of Utah’s teachers, parents and religious leaders sought to take the issue directly to the people. Knowing that the Legislature was as likely to pass gun safety legislation as it was to make a holiday for Stokely Carmichael, this group of citizens turned to the ultimate of democratic safety valves—the ballot initiative. Dubbed the “Safe to Learn-Safe to Worship Act,” organizers hoped to obtain enough signatures to bypass the Legislature and allow citizens to choose for themselves where guns do and don’t belong. According to the Web page of Utahns Against Gun Violence, the act “prohibits persons, including those holding concealed firearm permits, from the unauthorized carrying of firearms in primary and secondary schools, institutions of higher education and places of worship. Exception is provided for security personnel, law enforcement officers and persons who obtain prior consent from an authorized representative of a school or place of worship.” To most people reading the UAGV’s statement, it would seem like a cinch to pass such a measure. But of the three high profile initiative attempts in Utah last year (including English Only and changes in asset-forfeiture law) it was Safe to Learn-Safe to Worship that never even made it to the ballot. Petition organizers failed to garner the necessary 70,000 verified signatures and the effort seemed to be a failure.
Link Posted: 7/13/2001 10:43:40 AM EST
[Last Edit: 7/13/2001 10:41:23 AM EST by Goet]
However, according to Maura Carabello, Executive Director of Utahns Against Gun Violence, last year’s efforts were not a failure and the movement is already picking up new steam. Carabello says that nearly half of the signatures needed were collected by dedicated volunteers during 2000 and that they simply need to be supplemented with the remaining 35 or 40 thousand. A comparison with the other two successful ballot initiatives shows that they were funded by out-of-state money and influence. With this in mind, and the fact that “Safe to Learn” did not have paid workers collecting signatures, it was by all means a significant statewide volunteer effort. For those skeptical of seeing any success beyond a “moral victory,” Carabello insists that the effort is being driven by enormous public support. Indeed, her words hold true when one takes a look at several polls run by Dan Jones and Associates during the last two years. According to the Deseret News on Feb. 13, 2000, support for a measure banning all guns from schools had registered at an amazing high of 90 percent the previous year. While later polls showed varying levels of support, the lowest support recorded out of a total of four surveys taken registered at a level of 58 percent. Not bad in a state where the elected representatives refuse to budge on the matter. Carabello also alluded to the fact that internal polling on the part of the Safe to Learn-Safe to Worship Coalition shows that this issue is not only important in most citizen’s eyes, but that it still carries the support of a sizable majority of Utah’s voters. In addition to enormous public support, organizers point to a more-structured, better-funded effort that is gearing up for the next state-wide election in 2002. The Safe to Learn-Safe to Worship Coalition is currently chaired by Paula Plant, and includes UAGV’s Carabello and Dave Jones, the former House minority leader who worked for changes in Utah’s gun laws as a legislator. Jones is now doing fund-raising for the Coalition. Carabello, a veteran organizer herself, is definitely fired up when asked about the initiative’s chances. Speaking of the grassroots effort, she says, “the battle’s not over, and the war hasn’t been lost. This is still around, and it’s been rejuvenated.” In spite of the Coalition’s great chances, it certainly has foes. Utah has a powerful gun lobby that includes the Utah Shooting Sports Council as well as the National Rifle Association—the latter having recently announced it will hold its 2007 convention here in Utah. It remains to be seen as to how much opposition such groups may give to the measure. It will also be remembered that members of Utah’s conservative Eagle Forum helped in the attack against “Safe to Learn-Safe to Worship” last summer. While conventional wisdom says that Utah’s gun laws are locked safe in the Legislature’s cabinet, it looks like significant change may be on the horizon after all. The battle to keep unauthorized guns out of schools, homes, churches and yes, universities, is back and its supporters are stronger than ever. Even the most strident of gun rights marksmen may not be able to shoot this one down. Doug is a new columnist at The Chronicle. He welcomes feedback at: [email]dholm@chronicle.utah.edu[/email] or send a letter to the editor to [email]letters@chronicle.utah.edu[/email]
Link Posted: 7/13/2001 12:05:03 PM EST
OK, here's my response. I sent it to both the e-mails provided. Doubt it will see the light of day, but it keeps me entertained:
I read with interest the editorial concerning Utah's “Safe to Learn-Safe to Worship Act” as proposed by Utahns Against Gun Violence. The purpose, of course, is to prevent those who have gone through the concealed-carry permit process from exercising their newly-won priveledge in schools and places of worship. The editorial noted that the UAGV was only able to acquire about half of the signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot, but next year they'll try it again. The essay implies that they'll do better by using paid workers to collect the signatures, and these workers will be paid using funds from out of state. After all, that's how measures of this type have been successful in the past. There is an air of puzzlement over the fact that, although numerous polls prove that the measure is widely supported, there still weren't enough signatures gathered. After all, with poll numbers no lower than 58% approval all the way up to 90%, it was obvious that all right-thinking people support the measure. However, I must wonder at a few things. First, just how were those polls worded? That has a great deal to do with how they are answered, does it not? "Mr. Smith, have you stopped beating your wife" ring any bells? And second, why would anyone be afraid to allow a concealed-carry permit holder to exercise that priveledge in a school or church or restauraunt or anywhere else for that matter? Only through ignorance and fear could anyone conclude that a concealed-carry permit holder constitutes a danger to anyone other than a criminal. And criminals don't need concealed-carry permits to take a firearm anywhere, as recently proven by the Buford Furrow incident at a Jewish day-care facility. Posting a sign that says "Gun Free Zone, No Guns Allowed!" anywhere is the equivalent of saying "We're Unarmed! Please Don't Hurt Us!" Perhaps when the petition is actually handed to the voter to sign, they realize what it truly means. That could explain why people apparently don't want it, after all.
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Link Posted: 7/13/2001 12:23:12 PM EST
I just sent him this:
I read your article about Utah's Safe to Learn Safe to Worship legislation. I was shocked to learn that 'common sense' dictates that we, honest citizens, disarm ourselves in places where incidences like Columbine are likely to happen. It is precisely this kind of thinking that costs innocent, law abiding people their lives. You criticize the Utah legislature for doing the only thing that might actually save lives. I truly hope you never have to learn first hand what a mistake it can be to be caught unarmed and unaware of how to protect yourself.
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Link Posted: 7/13/2001 12:39:25 PM EST
Safe to Learn Safe to Worship Never bring a notebook or a bible to a gunfight.
Link Posted: 7/13/2001 1:00:39 PM EST
My Response: I just finished reading your editorial with intrest. I have a few questions though. Since the law was passed in 1995, have there been mass church and school shootings in Utah? Has there been even one documented incident involving someone with a CCW permit? Your editorial presents no evidence that anything bad has ever happend as a result of the people being able to carry firearms into church and school. You state that between 58% to 90% are in favor of banning guns from church and school. If so, then why was their a failure to get enough signatures? Surely if that much of the population was truely against something there would be enough signatures almost immediately. Your article it titled When People Want It. Well who wants this law? The legislators elected by the people don't think the people of Utah want it. The failure to get enough signatures shows that the people of Utah don't want it. So now out-of-state funds will be brought in to hire out-of-state people to gather signatures. This too shows that the people IN Utah, don't want the law. Supposing this issue makes the 2002 ballot, what will be said when it fails? Are you still going to claim that 58% to 90% of the people want it? There have been no problems with people carrying concealed firearms in churches and schools in Utah. There is no public support for the petitions in Utah. There is no need to ban firearms from these places. And if you did, do you really think a criminal would stop at the door and say, I know I was going to kill someone I hate but they passed a new law stating I can't take a gun into the school so I guess I'll just go back home. Get real, this law has absolutely nothing to do with stopping criminals, because criminals don't follow the law to begin with. This is just more harassement of the law abiding gun owner. Stephen Wire Board of Directors Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners. www.mcrgo.org
Link Posted: 7/13/2001 1:02:59 PM EST
It seems the authors email account is no longer valid, my messages are bouncing back to me. So I sent it to the editor instead.
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