Lawmakers want concealed weapons for (almost) everyone
By Brandon Loomis
The Salt Lake Tribune
Some state lawmakers want to loosen Utah’s already liberal gun laws by following the Last Frontier’s example and allowing any legal gun owner to pack a concealed weapon without a permit.
Americans’ constitutional gun rights don’t start with permit training, and they aren’t restricted to the home, said Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem. This summer he is crafting a bill based on an Alaska model to remove the permit requirement while continuing to provide the option for those who want a license that other states with gun restrictions will honor. He had been calling the proposal “Alaska carry,” but after this week’s Supreme Court ruling on handguns he is pitching it as “constitutional carry.”
“The Second Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms,” Sandstrom said, emphasizing the “and.” “It doesn’t just say ‘to keep arms.’ ”
More than 226,000 people — including 125,000 Utahns — had Utah concealed-weapons permits as of March 31, according to state records, and 13,122 got their permits during the first quarter of the year.
Utah traditionally has had some of the most pro-gun laws in the country. The Legislature has overridden local restrictions, including a gun ban on the University of Utah campus. This year lawmakers followed Montana in exempting local gun makers from federal restrictions, a constitutional showdown that Montana gun-rights advocates are attempting to validate in court.
Utahns already have an implied right to carry guns in plain view to most places, because there is no law banning it. To carry a concealed weapon, though, the state requires gun owners to take a safety course, submit to a background check and pay a $65 application fee. The state does not require a shooting proficiency test, which has caused several states including Nevada to stop recognizing Utah permits. Renewals and updated background checks are required every five years.
The Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification conducts daily checks of Utah court records to determine whether permit holders are still eligible to possess weapons. The bureau searches national databases every few months. Alcohol violations, protective orders, firearm offenses, domestic violence and felonies are common reasons for losing a permit. Revocations spiked from 75 in 1999 to 256 in 2000, the year the bureau began the daily checks. The state revoked 409 permits last year.
Sandstrom said he is meeting with gun-rights advocates and plans a bill for consideration in the next legislative session. He claims wide support among House colleagues, and Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, is one of the likely co-sponsors.
“There’s a bunch of us talking about it right now,” Oda said.
Some lawmakers and police officers are wary of the proposal.
“We really are going back to the Wild West, aren’t we?” said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
King said he would need more information — support from police officers, for instance — before he could vote for such a change. The U.S. Supreme Court this week overturned a Chicago ban on handguns, he noted, but did not prohibit “reasonable restrictions” on gun owners. Getting a permit is not difficult, he said, and requiring some training is reasonable.
“We ought to ask ourselves, do we really want to increase the number of people carrying guns around?” King said. “Why is that a good idea?”
To Sandstrom and Oda, it’s good because it arms people who may be threatened by criminals who already ignore gun laws. “Gangbangers are going to carry concealed weapons irregardless,” Sandstrom said.
But the Utah Peace Officers Association likes the current permit system. Everyone with a right to gun ownership who wants a permit can get one, said association board member Michael Galieti, a Cottonwood Heights police officer.
“The system as it is works to everyone’s benefit, and for the safety of the police officer as well as the safety of the citizen,” Galieti said. “We’re not aware of any situations where anyone has been unreasonably denied a permit.”
Utah Shooting Sports Association Chairman Clark Aposhian did not take a position on Sandstrom’s proposal, but said he is unaware of problems in Alaska or Vermont, the two states that have allowed concealed weapons without permits. Arizona passed a law this year to become the third such state.
“It’s not a far step from where we [in Utah] are now, really,” he said. “We don’t have to have a permit in our own homes. We don’t have to have permits in our businesses, or even our cars. This is the next step.”
Concealed-carry permit instructor John Donatello of Herriman, a former cop in Utah and Connecticut, said training is important in helping people understand how to react if attacked. He acknowledged his bias because of income from permit training, but said permits make Utah safer.
“You won’t find a stronger supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said, but “having a permit is a good idea, or at least having training for folks is a good idea.”
The Utah proposal mirrors Alaska’s because the option to receive training and a state permit for use in other states would remain. Vermont allows concealed weapons but does not offer a permit at all.
Alaska Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Megan Peters said she is unaware of any gun-related problems since the Alaska Legislature eliminated the permit requirement in 2003. Other restrictions, including a ban on weapons ownership by felons and a ban on weapons in bars remain in place, she said. But enforcing a permit was difficult in a state where hikers often wear handguns for bear protection.
“Alaska is the kind of place where everyone and their dog has a gun,” Peters said. The law “just gives the public more freedom.”
Alaska Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, voted against the change because he thought training was useful. Law enforcement officials shared his concerns in 2003, he said Tuesday. “But I can’t think of a circumstance where somebody didn’t get the training, and it would have changed the outcome” of a shooting.