In wake of school shooting – gun control topic at legislative meeting
by Becky GINOS
BOUNTIFUL—From gender change to gun control, local lawmakers held a town hall meeting last week to talk about what’s going on at the Capitol as the session rounds the final bend.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake and Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful each took a few minutes to cover bills they’re running and to answer questions from the public.
A variety of subjects were discussed but the room got quiet when one young mother came to the podium and tearfully asked what is going to be done about guns and school safety.
“I have a fourth grader who is sleeping at the foot of my bed because he’s afraid of guns,” said the woman. “I can’t even tell him not to worry because my other son was in the classroom at Mueller Park Junior High where the gunman came. I’m tired of people saying bad guys will still get guns. That doesn’t mean we should give up. My question is what is being done?”
Ward said he doesn’t know what the next couple of years will bring. “I’m hard pressed to point to ‘here’s what’s being done on gun violence,’” he said. “It won’t happen quickly or easily. I’m happy to meet and make a plan on how to go forward.”
“I’ve got a bill that removes the legal barriers on locks in classrooms,” said Weiler. “There are a couple of things we could do as a nation. We could repeal the second amendment and confiscate all the guns out there but it would cause a civil war. We have a huge problem and we’re not sure how to solve it, but I’m trying by the two bills I’m running.”
“We go home to young people we love,” said Edwards. “This is an issue for all of us, certainly an issue in Washington, D.C. Do we focus on mental health, back ground checks, violent video games? Where do we go with this? It’s not obvious to everyone. For every idea we think is good there are others who won’t (think it is).”
She said the nation needs to transcend the either, or. “We must come together with our number one concern – the young people,” said Edwards. “It is devastating to think of a child sleeping at the foot of a bed because he’s afraid to go to school. The three of us are committed to carry this forward.”
A couple of other residents questioned the bill Weiler is running on gender change. “I don’t understand the background, it seems like a bad idea,” said one man.
Another man said he had worked at a factory where the issue of gender change had become a problem because of restroom accommodations. “It created a real problem in the workforce. I see a big concern there.”
These are very difficult issues, said Weiler. “In 1975 Utah passed a law that people could change their name/gender. I was at a conference last summer and had a judge pull me in a corner and tell me the statute failed to give them any guiding factors they should consider,” he said. “Number one, my bill is not trying to influence any ongoing case and number two the legislature failed to give judges anything to interpret.”
Weiler said it’s not a bill he wanted to run. “It’s a lose, lose,” he said. “It’s not a new thing, people can get a new birth certificate. A lot of people think I’m creating this problem. No, that’s the status quo. We don’t want people to do it willy-nilly. Where do we draw those lines?”
He said it’s the most difficult bill he’s sponsored. “I’m trying to put some guard rails around the problem,” said Weiler. “We can’t have 129 judges all making up the rules. People think I want everybody to change their gender. No, I’m just trying to put some structure in it.”
Weiler said he never imagined he would be dealing with transgender issues. “My heart goes out to them,” he said. “Many just want acceptance, they’re struggling. I know a boy who won’t go to the bathroom at school because he identifies as a girl but can’t go into the girls’ bathroom but doesn’t want to go to the boys’. It’s a bigger problem than I ever imagined.”
All three legislators are primed to face a rush of bills right up to the last minute of the session that ends on March 8 at midnight. “They used to throw a blanket over the clock and pretend they didn’t know when it ended,” laughed Weiler. “Now we all have cell phones.”