Utah Lawmakers talks Universal Concealed Carry

In the purgatorial months before Utah’s 2011 Legislature convenes this January, gun rights advocates, namely the Utah Shooting Sports Council, in conjunction with state lawmakers in Salt Lake City are trumpeting new legislation that would make concealed carry permits (CCW) nonessential for all Utah residents.

This week Utah Shooting Sports Council literature singled out the tentatively termed “Constitutional carry” law as their top priority for the coming year. Their argument for the elimination of Utah’s public concealed carry permit rests on a strict interpretation of the universality of the Federal Constitution: the council maintains state issued concealed weapons permits act as “little more than bureaucratic permission slips” that undermine the legitimacy of US citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

Providing the measure with some sharper teeth, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R-Orem) plans to introduce legislation that would make state-issued concealed carry permits not obsolete but rather unnecessary for Utah residents.  Utah’s Deseret News quoted Rep. Sandstrom saying, “Basically, the right to keep and bear arms is a personal right just like you have freedom of religion, freedom of speech.  You don’t get a freedom of religion permit. As a reporter, you don’t get a First Amendment permit. So why guns?”

The initiative of course has been met with opposition from gun control groups.  Steve Gunn, a Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah board member responded, “It seems to me if a person carries an instrument that can kill someone, he at least should have something to show he can carry it. There should be some modicum of training. At least, people should have to show an ability to handle the gun their planning to carry.”

Ideologically, Gunn believes the proposed legislation proceeds to steer Utah down a dangerous path.  Mr. Gunn did concede that he had not seen or read the legislation but continued with a further charge against open carrythe act of visibly wearing a firearm in public and also a widely accepted practice in Utah.

The Utah gun cabal point to the distinction between criminals and law-abiding citizens and further claim that lenient concealed carry laws are only relevant in the context of self-defense.  In short, they believe a greater freedom of concealed carry will deter crime.  “A gangbanger is going to carry a loaded, concealed weapon anyway,” Sandstrom said. “Maybe a few more people would carry because of (the law), but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most people are law-abiding citizens.”  Clark Aposhian, chairman  of the Utah Shooting Sport Council, echoed this sentiment, stating, “This legislation is not really that big of step from where we are right now. It’s a small step of legislation, but a huge step   for the ability of lawful self-defense.”

The decision to lift the permit requirement is not without precedent: Utah would join Alaska, Arizona and Vermont as the only states where stowing a gun on your person is legal without a permit.

Concurrently, Senator John Valentine (R-Orem) plans to draft a bill designed to curry favor with other states, specifically the nearby states of Nevada and New Mexico, who recently stopped honoring Utah’s concealed carry permits.  Nevada representatives reference Utah’s permissive licensing criteria as the reason the state will not recognize them.

As it is, Utah’s current concealed carry stance requires US citizens to obtain a permit by passing a criminal background check, completing a Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification approved training course and paying a nominal fee of $65.25. It is in the nature of the training course requirement where other states claim to take issue: Utah does not require a demonstration of firearms proficiency or even for the prospective permittee to fire a gun in the training process. Complicating the matter, out-of-state residents can obtain a Utah permit by mail, easily circumventing the stringencies in their own state’s concealed carry permit requirements.

“You can’t go down and get a driver’s license without taking a driving test,” said Frank Adams, executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chief Association.

Valentine maintains the situation is as much a fiscal issue as it is a political one.  According to the most recent Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification statistics,  48 percent of the 254,000 valid Utah permits belong to nonresidents and this number is believed to be on the rise representing a lucrative source of revenue.  BCI, which manages their concealed carry program, sent out $2.4 million in permits last year with the organization clearing $720,000 in profit.  Additionally, Sandstrom’s proposal would not eliminate Utah’s concealed weapons permit system considering the Utah permit is still “valuable” because it is recognized   in at least 32 other states.

Valentine stated, “It appears that [the lax licensing requirements] are somewhat of a cover for the real reason,” he said. “They don’t want another state issuing permits to their citizens. It’s more of a turf battle or a revenue battle.”

However, a major aspect of Valentine’s bill would require out-of-state applicants to purchase a concealed weapons permit in their home state before they could obtain a Utah permit. This would in effect distinguish between resident and non-resident permits.

Adams’ response was curt: “The reason [for dropping Utah] was their law is not as strict as the Nevada law.”

The Utah situation is endemic of the state-by-state licensing for concealed carry in the US today. In what media sources are beginning to refer to as the “Florida Loophole”, a number of states are currently reviewing proposals to reexamine their concealed carry reciprocity often with the state of Florida, giving birth to the eponymous phrase.

Beginning last spring, Pennsylvania lawmakers lead by Rep. Brian Lentz have aimed their crosshairs at Florida, claiming applicants who were denied CCW’s in Pennsylvania could easily obtain them in Florida.  A prime example is Pennsylvania. The situation came to head when a man in Philadelphia was shot and killed by another man who had been denied a Pennsylvania concealed carry permit twice before he obtained a Florida permit through the mail.