Utah State Legislature considers legalizing firearm use while intoxicated

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Utah House Liquor Guns

Members of a Utah State Legislature interim committee recently discussed new legislation to allow the use of firearms while intoxicated for self-defense and on private property.

Utah State Legislature may reform prohibitions

Republcian member Norm Thurston from Provo introduced legislation during a November 12th Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee session to reform Utah’s prohibition on carrying dangerous weapons while intoxicated.

The review was prompted by Utah’s new strict definition of intoxication: an alcohol/blood level of just 0.05%. That standard – the toughest in the nation – was enacted by a 2017 law that Thurston himself sponsored.

The 0.05% law has not itself caused any conflicts with existing gun control legislation, but it did prompt Thurston to make a general review of relevant statutes.

At the committee meeting he introduced a bill that addressed four issues:

  1. Carrying a dangerous weapon while intoxicated is currently illegal unless you are a law enforcement officer. Thurston argued this made the police look “above the law” and said his local sheriff found the idea of the special exemption made him uncomfortable.
  2. The term “carry” needs defining to exclude weapons that are in someone’s possession, but securely encased or otherwise not readily available.
  3. In the case of self-defence, the member from Provo said there is a probable Constitutional right to bear arms even if you are intoxicated. “It’s not an ideal situation,” Thurston said, “but it’s probably a constitutional violation for us to say that person who’s been drinking can’t pick up a weapon to defend themselves, or have to defend themselves with just their bare knuckles.”
  4. Gun owners should not necessarily be prevented from handling firearms while intoxicated on private property (assuming they have permission of the property owner, of course).

The last issue is perhaps the one most likely to result in Utah residents falling foul of the law. With the legal intoxication set so low, currently any hunter who drinks a beer at lunch is in violation of the law – even if he is on private property in a completely isolated location.

Only minor dissent to proposals, so far

Norm Thurston’s proposed legislative reforms are at a very early stage – and even he referred to them more as discussion points rather than hard proposals. Still, there was surprisingly little dissent voiced during the November 12th meeting.

The only question after hearing Thurston’s proposal came from Senator Luz Escamilla, the Democratic Minority leader in the upper chamber. She believed some of Thurston’s proposals have merit, but they should not all be together in a single bill.

“I believe these need to be discussed separately,” she said. “Just the private property one will be a very lengthy discussion… The law enforcement one I have absolutely no problem with.”

Rep. Thurston thought Sen. Escamilla’s idea to separate the suggestions into different bills a good one. The proposals will now each be considered individually during the 2019 Utah State Legislature session.

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