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Guns Blazin' 

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox urges Utahns to keep an “open mind” about any and all gun violence solutions.

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click to enlarge Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to reporters at a televised press conference on June 16, 2022. - LAURA SEITZ/POOL PHOTO
  • Laura Seitz/Pool Photo
  • Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to reporters at a televised press conference on June 16, 2022.

UNIVERSITY—The most memorable Christmas of Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s childhood, he said Thursday, was when he was gifted his first 0.22 caliber rifle at age 11.

Cox described it as similar to the holiday comedy “The Christmas Story,” with his father hiding the firearm until the last minute after all the other gifts had been opened.

“We also had a deep and abiding respect for those weapons,” he said.

Cox’s comments came during his monthly televised press conference at PBS Utah. In addition to reminiscing about his own experience with guns, he also said he’s been unable to get images out of his head from the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which left more than a dozen children and two teachers dead.

“The devastating thing is it's happened before and we know it’s going to happen again,” he said, noting that it’s likely a matter of time until Utah sees its own mass shooting tragedy. “I’m probably going to have to be the one to stand in front of those parents and look them in the eye. It’s going to be devastating if I can’t say, in good faith, that we tried to do something.”

Cox suggested that everyone needs to be open minded about potential solutions for preventing gun violence. The United States is an outlier in the world for both its number of guns and its number of gun deaths, but Cox said he has a hard time listening to those who blame the problem solely on gun ownership as well as those who refuse to acknowledge that guns play any role at all.

He pointed to steps that Utah has already taken, like investing in elementary and middle-school counseling and the creation of the SafeUT app, a platform for reporting threats of violence or suspicious behavior.

“We still don’t have enough [school counselors] and part of that is a pipeline issue,” Cox said. “We need more people to get their degrees in counseling and we’ve added funding to expand that.”

But he declined to comment specifically on gun control proposals—such as raising the minimum age for gun purchases or enacting so-called “red flag” laws, which create a legal process for temporarily suspending a person’s 2nd Amendment right to bear arms—beyond repeating that he is “open” to considering them. He also noted that after a Republican Utah lawmaker attempted to pass a local red flag law, that same lawmaker was defeated at convention by a more-conservative candidate.

“In theory, I think most people support red flag laws,” Cox said. “But the details of that really matter.”

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is reportedly approaching a package of bills that would incentivize the creation of red flag laws while investing in mental health services and school security initiatives. Sen. Mitt Romney has provisionally signed on to the package framework, while Sen. Mike Lee has stated only that he will review the bills and that his priority is to uphold the individual gun-ownership rights.

Last week, Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake City Police Department held a voluntary gun buyback, exchanging gift cards for firearms, no questions asked. The Police Department reported that more than 100 guns were exchanged, including 24 pistols, 28 revolvers, 13 shotguns and 38 rifles.

“Today, there are 103 fewer firearms out in our community, which means 103 fewer guns that could end up in the hands of a person willing to inflict harm,” Police Chief Mike Brown said in a prepared statement. “We would be naïve to think this will be the solution to gun crimes in our community, but the Salt Lake City Police Department is fully committed to doing everything we can to reduce the chance of a firearm being used illegally, lost, stolen or abandoned. Many of the people who turned in their firearms said they wanted to make sure their guns wouldn’t end up back on the streets and that’s why this gun-buy back was so important.”

Asked about the buyback in Salt Lake City, Cox expressed skepticism that such events can have an impact on crime, saying the issue needs to be studied further.

“For people who want to get rid of their weapons, to give them an opportunity to do that, I think that’s a positive thing,” he said. “I don’t see any downside to that.”

Cox noted that in Utah—as is generally true elsewhere in the U.S.—most gun deaths take the form of suicide and domestic homicides, not mass or “rampage” shooters. He suggested the state could require a trigger lock be part of every gun purchase, or increase the penalties for those who fail to properly store and secure their firearms.

“Traditionally, the gun rights advocates have been much more open to discussion around gun safety and gun storage,” Cox said.

The press conference also included questions about the ongoing hearings of the January 6th Commission, the arrest of a white supremecist group (including several Utahns) reportedly planning to riot at an Idaho LGBTQ Pride event and next week’s primary elections.

The white supremecist group is “sickening” and “disturbing,” Cox said, adding that “there’s just no room for that in our society.” And while he had not had time to watch the January 6 hearings, beyond clips, he said his opinion of the attempted insurrection at the Capitol remained unchanged.

“It was incredibly disturbing to see what happened,” he said. “I think it was a black eye in our nation's history.”

Asked who he planned to support in the June primary—the most high-profile race being the three-way contest between Lee, Becky Edwards and Ally Isom to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate—Cox declined to express support for any candidate.

“I will be—not sharing that with you,” he said. “I’ll be voting for good Republicans who represent my values.”

A man was arrested Thursday night and cited with disorderly conduct after blocking drivers from entering an intersection filled with "hundreds" of cyclists participating in the weekly 999 bike ride, according to video posted on the r/SaltLakeCity subreddit and confirmed by Salt Lake City Police.

In response to inquiries from City Weekly and other outlets, the Police Department said an off-duty officer was traveling in an SUV when he was stopped from moving at a green light by the man, who had intentionally placed himself in the path of cars to facilitate the passage of cyclists, who vastly outnumbered the number of temporarily impeded drivers.

"Due to the sheer number of cyclists, it would not have been safe for the officer to proceed so the officer remained stopped," the Department stated. "While stopped, other cyclists scratched the officer's SUV as they rode by. Multiple on-duty patrol officers and a patrol supervisor responded to the scene following a 911 call. Officers cited the cyclist who blocked the officer's SUV with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a roadway by a pedestrian."

Video of the incident shows passers-by booing and questioning the arrest as multiple officers seized and removed the man from his bike. The Police Department statement also notes that the 999 ride has taken place for roughly a decade, frequently generating calls for service around noise, collisions and injuries—although it should be noted that such issues are present with virtually any use of the public streets, and particularly that of car drivers.

"The Salt Lake City Police Department is aware this event can cause significant public disruptions and that it poses numerous safety hazards," the Department stated. "The SLCPD is unable to provide traffic control for this event due to its size, recurrence and the staffing needs of the department. The event is unregistered, and the organizers do not provide the SLCPD with information about the route."

There is only one confirmed death stemming from the 999—a so-called "critical mass" ride that sees cyclists claim the roadway on Thursday nights and follow an impromptu route that varies with each event. That death, in 2018, involved a participant being struck by a train, while car drivers are responsible for dozens of fatalities every year on city streets.

The man's identity was not released by the Police Department. Video of the arrest can be found here.

The 999 has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks, with outlets like The Salt Lake Tribune questioning whether it should be allowed to take place. It is unclear, however, how the ride could even be banned, as it stems from the collective decisions of individual cyclists to exercise their right to the city's roadways.

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Benjamin Wood

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