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Gun bill advances in the Utah Legislature while red flag law hits a snag

A shooting at a Murray gun range over the weekend has been ruled accidental. (PHOTO: Adobe Stock)

SALT LAKE CITY – A bill gaining support in the Utah Legislature would make it illegal to possess a gun with its serial number or other identifiable markings rubbed off. But a proposed red flag law has hit a setback in committee.

The Firearm Identification Amendments bill passed unanimously out of committee on Wednesday. It would make it a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, for someone to possess a gun whose serial number has been tampered with.

William Carlson with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office told the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee that it is already illegal under federal law to rub off a weapon’s serial number, but he feels there is a gap in state law.

“[But] The U.S. Attorney’s Office does not file many cases [like that], even when there’s a lot of evidence. By putting it in state code, you provide more local control on enforcing the law,” Carlson said.

He also believes gang members and other criminals are using the loophole to steal guns and pass them around without consequences.

“If I steal John Finauer’s gun, it’s a second degree felony…But if I can steal that gun and destroy the serial number before anyone catches me, it’s no longer a crime,” Carlson said.

Another gun bill lawmakers took up would allow people to take away the guns of the mentally disturbed person with whom they live, also known as a red flag law.

However, both Republicans and Democrats on the committee were concerned that the bill as written is unclear about just who could legally confiscate those weapons. Some also worried the bill could criminalize mental health issues.

Orem Police Chief Gary Giles told lawmakers that law enforcement may not be able to hold some of those confiscated weapons, especially if state law conflicts with federal laws protecting patient privacy.

“That’s what scares me is the liability that this may place on law enforcement who would hold that weapon and actually have to give it back,” Giles said.

Although the red flag law did not pass out of committee, several lawmakers indicated that they would work on the wording of the bill in the upcoming session.