Gun enthusiasts say Davis County commissioners overstepped their bounds this week by enacting a ban on the discharge of firearms on its now populous east bench.
“They chose to do something they don’t have the authority to do. The state code is clear on that,” said Brent Tenney, a Salt Lake County resident who actively fought a concealed-carry ban on the University of Utah campus.
Utah law reserves gun-regulating authority to the state — except where the Legislature specifically delegates responsibility to local authorities or state entities. But it does allows municipalities to regulate and prevent the discharge of firearms within their borders.
“Cities have that power — but counties don’t,” Tenney said.
Sheriff’s deputies simply need to enforce laws already on the books, Tenney added. State law does prohibit shooting in the direction of people, buildings or vehicles.
Bret Millburn says that for as long as he has served on the Davis County Commission — his term began in January 2007 — an ordinance has been in place banning the discharge of firearms in the county’s western part and no one has complained.
The county’s new ordinance, approved Tuesday, prohibits the firing of guns on unincorporated Davis land east of Highway 89 up to 7,000 feet in elevation — except for permitted hunting and recreational shooting on the area’s popular gun ranges.
But some are questioning their authority to legislate gun activity on the hillside, Millburn said.
“We’re actually reviewing that section of the code to make a determination of where we stand,” Millburn said. “If in fact we are out of line, then we have no intentions of breaking the law.”
Jim Stephens presides over the Centerville Small Arms Association, which for decades has operated a gun range in the hills above Centerville. He suspects that stray bullets that lodged in northeast Bountiful homes did not come from the Lions Club Range above that city but from “irresponsible” shooters outside the facility.
Stephens said he approves of the county’s recent legislative action because many homes in Davis County have crept up to 6,000 feet on the mountainside.
“If the gunfire is directed toward their home, people have a right to be concerned,” Stephens said. “Sometimes people forget how far a bullet will travel and what it will do when it lands.”
Senate President Michael Waddoups, a strong defender of individual gun rights, said that he was unaware of the legal conundrum raised by Tenney.
“Obviously one of the major obligations of government is public safety,” Waddoups said. “But you would have to weigh the competing rights.”
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