Gun-rights activists up in arms about concealed carry fee hike

State agency says educators, attorneys and others requiring background checks have been subsidizing gun-permit applicants.<br>

Rick Egan | Tribune file photo W. Clark Aposhian has taught concealed carry classes for legislators, public officials and the governor. (photo by Rick Egan 6/9/2005)

The National Rifle Association issued a call for action to Utah gun owners on Wednesday asking them to voice their opposition to an increase in fees for first-time concealed weapons permit holders.

The state Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI), which issues permits, on Aug. 1 increased the fee by $20, raising the cost to $57 for Utah residents and to $67 for out-of-staters.

The NRA and the Utah Shooting Sports Council (USSC), however, say BCI lacks the authority to raise fees on its own and should have sought legislative approval.

“The process by which this fee has been implemented purposefully circumvented legislative action and removed any ability for the public to submit input,” NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said in a release.

“We don‘t need taxpayers paying for a concealed-carry permit program.”<br>Clark Aposhian, Utah Shooting Sports Council director.

BCI officials have been summoned to Capitol Hill to explain the increase. They are scheduled to do so at 9 a.m. Thursday before the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee.

The committee’s request was triggered by a complaint filed by a Utah couple who sought permits but objected to the cost, stating they were unaware that lawmakers had approved a fee hike, according to USSC director Clark Aposhian.

“The [BCI] clerk, doing what they were told, said, ‘Yes, the Legislature did pass it,’” said Aposhian, whose organization had sought volunteers who were willing to file a complaint.

USSC’s frustration isn’t necessarily with the amount of the increase, or even with BCI’s reasoning for it, Aposhian said.

“We would like some better explanation for it,” he said, “but you can’t just do an end run around the Legislature.”

BCI said in a statement that it has not raised fees but is adding on a $20 Western Identification Network (WIN) fingerprint background check fee, which was authorized by the Legislature through the passage of HB124 in 2015.

The bill changed state law to allow BCI to apply WIN fees to all background checks associated with professional licensing, including those for teachers, attorneys and other noncriminal justice applicants.

Those applicant fees have essentially been subsidizing background checks for the concealed carry program since 2015, the agency said, and the fees would have to be raised again if gun permit applicants remained exempt. About 70 percent of Utah concealed carry permit holders live out of state.

BCI said it determined in early 2017 that the WIN fee also could be assessed to first-time concealed carry permit applications. The fee does not apply to permit renewals.

Aposhian said he finds BCI’s reasoning curious, as HB124 was primarily related to background checks for school employees or volunteers and didn’t specifically mention firearms permits.

BCI’s statement also said the new fee is not related to a 2012 change in the FBI’s background check policies, although that’s the explanation the NRA said it was given by the state agency.

According to the NRA’s release, BCI said the add-on fee was “suddenly necessary” because of the extra step required by the FBI.

The federal agency now requires states to submit applicant fingerprints electronically, rather than on paper cards.

BCI must now scan the cards and check each set of prints in its electronic database before passing information to the FBI, the NRA said.

Aposhian said he understands that BCI might need additional funds, but he has never before heard that the agency was struggling to cover extra costs. Aposhian said he wants to be sure that taxpayers have not been unfairly covering firearms permitting costs.

“We don’t need taxpayers paying for a concealed carry permit program,” he said. “But we also want to make sure [permit holders] are not being charged extra for other things.”

That’s why, he said, the Legislature is supposed to have control over agency fees.

“[BCI] needs to go back to the Legislature and make their case,” Aposhian said. “We don’t want to set a precedent that every time the bureau thinks they need more money, they just increase fees on its own.”