As divergent approaches to local firearms regulation continue to take shape across the country, a newly passed bill in Utah seeks to strengthen the state’s role in setting gun laws.
The Utah State Senate voted 20-5 on Tuesday to pass Senate Bill 115. The bill seeks to boost Utah’s existing firearm preemption law by clarifying that the state legislature is the sole governing body that can regulate firearms and ammunition unless it explicitly states otherwise. The bill also creates an avenue for civil action against localities that attempt to enact their own gun restrictions.
“The individual right to keep and bear arms being a constitutionally protected right under Article I, Section 6 of the Utah Constitution and the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Legislature finds the need to provide uniform civil and criminal firearm laws throughout the state and declares that the Legislature occupies the whole field of state regulation of firearms,” the bill reads.
The bill is just the latest example of a new approach to gun regulation at the state and local levels. As localities have become increasingly active in establishing gun laws, states have started to split on how to address local control over firearms.
States like Colorado have taken the unprecedented step to repeal state preemption to grant localities the ability to propose highly restrictive gun laws. Meanwhile, states like Utah have sought to pass laws further restricting localities from enacting gun control, often including provisions in the law to punish those that do.
The enhanced enforcement section of SB 115 provides that a local authority that violates the state’s preemption rules could face litigation from any person “harmed” by a local gun law. The litigation could result in a court order declaring the ordinance void and a civil award for damages.
Helen Droitsch, a leader with the Utah chapter of Moms Demand Action, decried the bill as an example of how lawmakers have “failed” the state.
“Taking away any autonomy our local governments have and putting their fate in the gun lobby is just another thing on the long list of disappointments from our so-called leaders,” she said in a statement asking the governor to veto the bill.
The law was inspired by a 2019 Salt Lake County ordinance requiring background checks for all sales, both private and commercial, at gun shows in county facilities. Utah does not have a universal background check statute.
Versions of the bill were first introduced two years ago in response to the ordinance but failed to get past the State Senate in 2020 and 2021.
SB 115 now heads to Governor Spencer Cox’s (R.) desk, where he can either sign or veto the bill. His office did not respond to a request for comment.