TRANSIT: Freshman Utah Congressman aims to kill felony rap for unpermitted guns on public buses

Rep. Norman Thurston believes there should be no felony-level criminal repercussions provided weapons are not used in a threatening manner

February 27, 2015

If a freshman Republican representative gets his way, it will soon become more of a penalty to carry an opened 40 oz. beer on a public bus in the state of Utah than to carry a concealed, unpermitted weapon.

Presently, carrying a concealed weapon on a train or bus within the state without a concealed firearms permit is a third-class felony. However, House Bill HB350, which this past Wednesday passed the Utah state House Law Enforcement Committee by the overwhelming margin of 8-2, would reduce the penalty for such conduct to a misdemeanor. The bill is now headed to the full House for consideration.

Among the language that would be redacted by the ratification of the bill is:

A person who boards a bus with a concealed dangerous weapon or firearm upon his person or effects is guilty of a third degree felony. The prohibition of Subsection (4)(a) does not apply to: (i) individuals listed in Subsections 76-10-523(1)(a), (b), (c), (d), and (e); (ii) a person licensed to carry a concealed weapon; or (iii) persons in possession of weapons or firearms with the consent of the owner of the bus or the owner's agent, or the lessee or bailee of the bus.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Norman Thurston (R-Provo) said in a recent statement that a felony for unlicensed weapons possession on public transit “is a pretty big penalty for somebody who is really possibly not even doing this knowingly.” He did not further qualify how an individual could be in possession of a pistol or other firearm without their own knowledge.

The representative further remarked that such carrying is legal on the street, so it should also be legal on public transit, and that people may carry knives without realizing it could be considered illegal under the law, or cover a firearm innocently. This last statement was predicated upon Utah’s allowance of open carrying of a firearm is public.

Thurston stated that under his bill, “If it was illegal before, it is still illegal…. We're not changing any activity, making it legal or illegal. We’re removing this felony enhancement.”

The Utah Transit Authority, for its part, remains neutral on the bill.