HB 190: LAUREN’S LAW

HB 190, or Lauren’s Law, received a lot of attention during the 2019 legislative session. I am proud to be bringing this bill back for consideration during the 2020 session, and hopeful about the collaborations between organizations and legislators that have already begun. Please check back for more information on how you can support this bill as we prepare for the next session.


What the bill does not do:

Penalize responsible gun owners. No gun owner who monitors the status of their weapon with a basic degree of responsibility will ever be subject to civil liability under HB 190. Maintaining an awareness of your firearm’s location and use is a basic tenet of responsible gun ownership.

Criminalize lending a gun. HB 190 does not create penalties for the act of lending a weapon. This legislation only becomes relevant if the weapon is used in the commission of a felony crime, AND the victim(s) decide to seek a civil suit. Lending and borrowing weapons will continue to be fully legal under federal and state law.

Create any form of criminal liability. This legislation does not create, or seek to create, any form of criminal penalty or liability for firearm owners. The intentional focus on civil liability is a reflection of the culture of individual responsibility in Utah.

Create any barriers or obstacles to legally obtaining a firearm. HB 190 has no impact on the process of purchasing a firearm, nor on the legal requirements for storing and maintaining previously purchased firearms. The legislation does not include any form of storage or maintenance requirement.

Trigger immediate civil liability for firearm owners. In this legislation, liability only comes into play if the injured party decides to pursue a lawsuit. Many victims and their families will not seek damages in civil court, as the criminal justice system exists to detain and prosecute the individual directly responsible for the commission of the crime. It is anticipated that application of HB 190 will be rare, and will be used almost exclusively in instances where the firearm custodian demonstrated clear negligence.

Infringe upon the right to keep and bear arms. As mentioned above, this law has no bearing on the purchase, sale, carry, or storage of firearms, and it only relates to use and/or discharge as it applies to the commission of felony crimes. This legislation clearly fits into the language of “well-regulated” as it applies to any form of citizen militia.

Penalize acts of self-defense. The text of HB 190 contains a specific exception that removes the option for civil liability if the weapon was used in an act of self-defense or is otherwise legally justified.

Interfere with the duties of law enforcement. The first substitute for HB 190, introduced by Rep. Stoddard, clearly delineates the exemption of peace officers (animal control and law enforcement) from the civil liability discussed in this legislation, as long as the firearm discharge in question happened during the course of the peace officer’s official duties.

Penalize or re-victimize crime victims. It must not be forgotten that individuals whose firearms are stolen from them are victims of a crime, and do not deserve to be re-victimized. This is why HB 190 includes specific provisions for the reasonable report of firearm theft, in order to protect the firearm custodian from re-victimization by civil courts. If the firearm is reported stolen, or is not reported because of circumstances outlined in the text of HB 190, the legislation will not apply regardless of the results of the discharge in question.

What the bill does:

Encourages responsible gun stewardship. All gun enthusiasts can agree that owning a gun is an important responsibility. The majority of gun-related crimes are not committed by legal gun owners, and as such, this legislation intentionally seeks not to stigmatize or endanger gun owners.

Provides a pathway to civil litigation for victims and families. The victimization process is horrific for everyone involved. HB 190 provides an opportunity for, in rare cases, a level of closure and restitution that could not otherwise be sought.

Penalizes the commission of felony crimes only. Examples include murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, rape, and robbery. Misdemeanor crimes are not included in the purview of HB 190.

Strengthens existing laws by providing an incentive for gun enthusiasts to obtain firearms through legal means. HB 190 simply strengthens the pathway to civil litigation, rather than creating any new laws or criminal liability. This will act as a boon to existing Utah laws, by encouraging firearm owners to uphold the highest standards of personal responsibility. This also aids the work of law enforcement.

Provides positive economic value for the gun and sport shooting industry in Utah. Incentivizing legal means of obtaining firearms, and encouraging official rental programs rather than casual gun-swapping, will provide an economic benefit for related industries in Utah, including dozens of locally-owned gun stores and shooting ranges.

Reinforces Utah values of individual responsibility. It is a testament to the responsible gun owner culture in Utah that a minority of firearm-related crimes are felonies. But one life lost is too many, and with no legislative response to the actions that led to Lauren McCluskey’s death, there will be no perceived consequence for individuals faced with similar choices. Leaders in the gun rights community willingly admit that gun enthusiasts regularly lend out firearms in informal settings. HB 190 will ensure that negligence has consequences, without limiting legal methods of obtaining and using firearms.

Encourages cooperation with law enforcement through incentivizing reporting when a firearm is stolen. At this time, there is no legal requirement for gun owners in Utah to report a lost or stolen firearm to law enforcement -- indeed, reporting requirements exist only in 11 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and there are no federal requirements. While HB 190 does not establish reporting requirements as a legal precedent, it does encourage reporting when a firearm is stolen, which assists law enforcement with their work to crack down on the illegal weapons trade.

Slows the commission of violent crimes by creating barriers for potential criminals. Knowledge of the potential civil penalties for crimes committed with a borrowed firearm will give gun owners another reason to be hesitant about lending their weapons. This creates a barrier to access for criminals. For example, had Melvin Shawn Rowland been unable to obtain a firearm from his initial source, he would have had to find an alternative method, since he was a prohibited person unable to purchase his own weapon. This additional time may have allowed him to cool off and reconsider his plans to harm Lauren McCluskey, and/or allowed law enforcement to follow up on existing suspicions about his behavior.


EXAMPLE SCENARIOS


SCENARIO 2

A 22-year old is heading to the range with his friends. His father lends him his new Glock 19. On the way there, the son’s friend uses the firearm to shoot a road sign, and pieces of debris fly off and injure a pedestrian. The friend is cited for a misdemeanor, and the pedestrian wants to pursue civil damages against the gun owner.

HB 190: DOES NOT APPLY. Destruction of a highway sign is a Class B misdemeanor, and destruction of a highway sign that results in personal injury is a Class A misdemeanor. HB190 only applies to felony crimes.

SCENARIO 1

A father lends his gun to his daughter for protection. She is legally allowed to own a firearm, but is saving up to buy one of her own, and has just moved into a new apartment where she feels unsafe. She is attacked in the home and uses the weapon in self-defense, killing her attacker. The family of the deceased wants to sue her father for civil damages.

HB 190: DOES NOT APPLY. Although the individual who fired the weapon did not own it, the discharge was in an act of self-defense. HB 190 would not provide any pathway to civil liability.


SCENARIO 3

Two law enforcement officers are completing their rounds when they receive word of a disturbance at a local residence. Arriving in the area, the officers are ambushed and one officer is knocked to the ground while attempting to deescalate the situation. His weapon is kicked from his hand, and picked up by the second officer, who uses it to disarm the assailants. When the ordeal is over, one individual who had been with the group is left with substantial injuries and medical bills, but is not charged with any crime. His family is determined to take the first officer to civil court for damages based on the determination that his gun, fired by the second officer, caused the injuries.

HB 190: DOES NOT APPLY. The first substitute of HB 190 specifically clarifies that the bill does not apply to peace officers who discharge a firearm in the course of their official duties. Even if the officer was not found to have been acting in self-defense, this law would still not provide any opportunity for civil liability due to this additional exemption.


SCENARIO 4

An individual steals a friend’s firearm while they are visiting their home. Later that day, they use the firearm to rob a convenience store. The store owner wants to pursue civil damages against the firearm owner, although the owner did not realize the firearm had been stolen.

HB 190: DOES NOT APPLY. The firearm owner is protected under two parts of Lauren’s Law in this case. If the weapon was stored and secured with reasonable care, criminal liability is removed under Section 3(ii)(B)(line 39-40), and even if the firearm was not stored and secured with reasonable care, the owner is still protected under line 41, regarding reasonable turnaround time, as the completion of the crime within hours of the theft did not provide reasonable notification time for the owner.

SCENARIO 5

Same as Scenario 4, but the firearm custodian notices the weapon is missing within hours of it being taken. They report it to the police. The next day, the weapon is used in an aggravated assault. The victim wants to pursue civil charges against the firearm custodian.

HB 190: DOES NOT APPLY. Since the theft was reported to the police prior to the discharge, the firearm custodian cannot be held civilly liable.