Late in the day on Thursday June 23rd, the Senate passed one of the biggest gun control packages in decades, 65 to 33. It contains a slew of anti-gun initiatives that put pressure on states to adopt Extreme Risk Protective Orders (“red flag” laws), changes what firearms 18-20 year olds can purchase while simultaneously increasing the wait time, and further attacked homemade firearms. Romney was quick to throw his vote behind this “bipartisan” legislation, calling for compromise one week and casting his vote the next.
The contents of this bill, while all egregious infringements on the right to keep and bear arms, are not particularly shocking: they’ve been part of the anti-gun wishlist for decades. What is shocking however is how little regard Senator Romney seems to have for his constituents; had he looked at his own state’s legislature prior to his vote, he would know that there is no appetite at all for what he supported. His staff could have made one call to the Governor, or the Speaker, or the Senate President, and asked: would Utahns support this bill? The answer would have been quick and clear. Why? Because we’ve already defeated the very things in this bill before.
Glaring constituent disconnect number one, and probably the biggest offender, is the “Extreme Risk Protective Orders” provision, or otherwise known as a red flag law. These have been introduced several years running, and were beaten back in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Every one of them died in a committee. The groundswell of grassroots activists was massive, and we packed committee room after committee room, and every single time cheering as they went down in flames. Those bills performed so poorly, and the push-back was so intense, that I suspect it’s the reason we’ve made it two legislative sessions without one even being drawn up. And, I doubt the general attitude toward them since ’20 has shifted at all; if anything it’s likely worsened. Romney’s counterpart, Senator Lee, has even argued against them federally in the past. So what gives?
But it’s not just the red flag laws: Senator Romney’s bill also makes it easier for the state to permanently bar young adults from buying guns by including a broader number of as-a-minor crimes as disqualifiers, where a bad decision as a teenager can now more readily mean that you are barred for life from owning a firearm. The bill also created more hoops and longer waiting periods for 18-20 year-olds to jump through to legally own a modern firearm to defend themselves and their families, effectively (further) cementing the “second-class” adult dichotomy in our laws. In stark contrast, Utahns voted in favor of trusting our young adults ages 18-20 to lawfully purchase, possess, and conceal carry a pistol on their person several years ago. We also have no restrictions whatsoever on the kinds of “long guns” they may purchase and possess. This is entirely at-odds with our Senator’s vote to restrict 18-20 year olds in this fashion. Disconnect number two.
Lastly, there’s disconnect number three, which only time will tell how much damage it’ll do: whether he simply didn’t know or simply didn’t care, his one “renegade” vote on that bill will almost certainly act as executive cover, sending mixed signals to other Republicans at the state-level that Utahns may be ready to sacrifice some hard-fought rights at the altar. There’s no doubt that the Governor’s statements about compromise are already likely to do exactly that. We are potentially going to have a long, drawn-out fight in ’23 and beyond.
Opinions on Senator Romney are decidedly polarized, and I don’t assume to know what everyone feels about his other policy positions, but one thing is clear: when it came time to protect the right to bear arms, not only was Senator Romney a flop, he was an active opponent. Unfortunately it seems that for the former Massachusetts governor, it appears some tigers can’t change their stripes.