SALT LAKE CITY — Gun rights advocates in Utah are pushing a new law that would let residents carry loaded, concealed firearms in public without a permit.
In its newsletter this week, the Utah Shooting Sports Council listed the so-called "Constitutional carry" law as one of its top priorities for the 2011 Legislature, which convenes in January. The council says permits are "little more than bureaucratic permission slips" to exercise Second Amendment rights.
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who recently met with the group, intends to draft legislation that would render state-issued concealed carry permits unnecessary. And other lawmaker plans to run a bill in an attempt to regain the favor of states that have recently stopped recognizing Utah's permits due to what they see as lax licensing requirements.
"Basically, the right to keep and bear arms is a personal right just like you have freedom of religion, freedom of speech," Sandstrom said. "You don't get a freedom of religion permit. As a reporter, you don't get a First Amendment permit. So why guns?"
Steve Gunn, a Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah board member, calls the proposal "ridiculous."
"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," he said, adding he hasn't read any proposed legislation yet. At least, people should have to show an ability to handle the gun their planning to carry, he said.
Utah currently requires residents who want to carry a concealed gun to obtain a permit after passing a criminal background check and attending a training course. The course, however, does not require a demonstration of firearms proficiency or even firing a gun.
The state also has an open-carry law that lets people holster unconcealed weapons in all but a few restricted areas. Residents may also keep loaded guns in their personal property such as cars, motor homes and boats.
"This legislation is not really that big of step from where we are right now," said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council. "It's a small step of legislation, but a huge step for the ability of lawful self-defense."
Sandstrom foresees perhaps a few more guns on the streets if the measure passes, but says there hasn't been "a single incident of someone going berserk" as a result of looser gun laws. He said he thinks it would deter crime.
"A gangbanger is going to carry a loaded, concealed weapon anyway," he 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."
Gunn said Utah is going in the wrong direction with gun legislation, saying it should become more, not less, restrictive.
"What is needed is a law that says we should not be able to carry open firearms," he said.
Utah would join Alaska, Arizona and Vermont as the only states where packing hidden heat without a permit would be legal.
Sandstrom said Utah's concealed weapons permit system would not be eliminated as part of his proposal. Gun rights advocates and lawmakers consider a Utah permit "valuable" because it is recognized in at least 32 other states. And at $65.25, it is relatively cheap.
According to recent Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification statistics, 48 percent of the 254,000 currently valid Utah permits belong to nonresidents, and those figures are on the rise. The system also is a cash cow. BCI, which oversees the program, sold $2.4 million in permits last year, netting $720,000.
Some states, including Nevada and New Mexico, however, decided to longer honor Utah permits because Utah doesn't require concealed carry holders to shoot live rounds on a gun range as part of its training course.
"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.
But Sen. John Valentine, who is drafting legislation in an attempt to win those states' favor again, sees that as an excuse.
"It appears that is 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."
Adams said if Utah lawmakers think that's why Nevada withdrew its recognition, they need to read the law. "The reason (for dropping Utah) was their law is not as strict as the Nevada law," he said.
Valentine's bill would require out-of-state applicants to obtain a concealed weapons permit in their home state first.
That might solve the problem for some states, but not for Nevada because it still wouldn't require permit holders to actually have pulled a trigger.
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