Photo courtesy Howard Communications.
The mayor of Salt Lake County, Utah, has instituted a new rule requiring background checks for all firearms transfers conducted at gun shows held at county-owned facilities. The move has set off a debate about the legalities of the new rule, given Utah’s pre-emption statutes.
Mayor Jenny Wilson (D), announcing the change at a press conference Dec. 16, said, “I support the rights of lawful gun owners, but the risk of a private transaction resulting in the sale of a firearm to someone with a violent criminal record or history of domestic abuse is a risk we cannot accept in Salt Lake County. We can all agree that responsible gun ownership should include responsible buying and selling as well.”
Clark Aposhian, a Utah firearms rights lobbyist, told America’s 1st Freedom he’s concerned about the county mayor instituting a rule the state legislators have not. “The mayor’s actions violate the overwhelmingly obvious intention of the pre-emption statute. Now the legislature will have to take time out to clarify ‘this really is a law’ when they shouldn’t have to. Everyone knows the intent of the statute.”
“There has been no problem—let alone a pattern of problems—this new policy would address,” Aposhian added. A Jan. 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Justice indicates fewer than 2% of the guns used in crimes were obtained at a gun show.
Federally, all commercial firearms sales require a background check, while private ones—regardless of venue—do not. Most state laws, including Utah’s, follow this standard without additional restrictions.
Utah’s pre-emption law further specifies that local authorities may not impose any regulations on the ownership, possession, purchase, selling, transfer or transport of a gun. Additionally, “All authority to regulate firearms is reserved to the state except where the Legislature specifically delegates responsibility to local authorities or state entities.” Because of this pre-emption law, the Utah Supreme Court in 2006 struck down an attempt by the University of Utah to ban guns on campus.
However, according to press materials provided by the mayor’s office, SMG, the contractor running the Salt Lake County gun shows in question, has successfully imposed other restrictions that go further than Utah state laws, such as a rule not allowing people to load or unload firearms in the venue.
Mayor Wilson said in a news report that the county attorney has agreed with the new rule, and the county may set contracts and determine which shows will be hosted in its facilities.
“If I contacted all members of the Legislature to ask their opinion on things,” she reportedly added, “I probably wouldn’t do a lot.”