By Maren McInnes
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would reduce the penalty for carrying a concealed weapon on public transportation from a felony to a misdemeanor passed a House committee 8-2.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who is sponsoring HB350 explained that currently it is a felony if a “person does not have a concealed permit, if they are peacefully possessing a concealed weapon on a bus, train, or in the vicinity of a bus station or bus stop.” This bill does not address or include individuals who have concealed-carry permits. Those individuals are free to have a concealed firearm on any public transportation.
“The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is actually a pretty big jump,” said Thurston in the Feb. 25 House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee hearing. He said it’s a pretty big penalty with long-term consequences for someone who is “possibly not even doing it knowingly.” He gave an example of a person who has a baseball bat in a gym bag. Normally, that could be considered a misdemeanor if an officer had reasonable suspension to look; but on a train, it would be a felony.
He wanted to make it very clear that “if it was illegal before, it would still be illegal. It would just be a misdemeanor instead of a felony. What was legal before would still be legal.”
“[This amendment] also makes the statute consistent with UTA’s current enforcement policy,” Thurston said.
The governor has challenged lawmakers to find unnecessary and unenforced laws and remove them. According to Thurston, this law has not been enforced. He thinks this bill would remove unnecessary and unenforced language.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was the only person to express concern with this bill and she asked Thurston to elaborate on the purpose of this bill. He reemphasized that just possessing and concealing a weapon on a bus or train would be considered a felony and he thinks that should change. The bill is just to change the felony enhancement to a misdemeanor. “It just goes too far,” he said.
One member of the audience who claims to ride the bus often agrees with the bill. He said this change makes sense. “We shouldn’t be going after bus riders with a felony,” he said. “A misdemeanor makes sense if there really is a threat.”
The other speakers from the audience were in favor of the bill.