Prosecutors have declined to charge a Utah woman who left a loaded handgun — with a round in the firing chamber — in a children’s-area restroom at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper.
While it may not lead to criminal charges, would the incident be enough to deprive the woman of a state-issued concealed carry permit?
Probably not, according to a prominent gun-rights lobbyist and gun-safety educator.
“Typically, just the act of accidentally leaving a firearm doesn’t rise to that level,” said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council and a member of the state’s Concealed Firearm Review Board.
State law allows for the denial, suspension or revocation of gun owners' concealed carry permits if they are convicted of a crime or believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
But absent a criminal conviction, Aposhian said, it would take a pattern of behavior — or a negative outcome from misplacing a weapon — before a person reaches the law’s threshold of public danger, something he’s rarely seen during his 15 years on the review board.
Concealed carry permits are administered by the state’s Bureau of Criminal Identification, which in turn is part of the Utah Department of Public Safety, or DPS.
Lt. Todd Royce, a DPS spokesman, said it’s “possible” that gun owners could lose their permits for leaving their firearms in a public place, but the incident would be subject to review by the concealed firearm board.
“Normally, the trigger that starts [that review] is a criminal charge,” Royce said.
Royce said the state’s database of concealed carry permit holders is checked against court records each day. When a gun owner is charged with a crime, or when law enforcement personnel recommend charges for screening by prosecutors, the system flags the gun owner for review.
“In the state of Utah, that is done every 24 hours,” Royce said.
In addition to leaving behind her weapon, the woman also apparently disregarded posted signs at the aquarium prohibiting weapons of any kind.
But Aposhian said Utah law does not recognize posted signage as legally binding on many types of private property. Churches and private residences have the power to ban weapons, Aposhian said, but a gun owner would have to be asked to leave a setting like the aquarium — and subsequently refuse — for a trespassing complaint to be raised.
Simply passing a “no guns” sign with a concealed weapon would not constitute a criminal act, Aposhian said, but it would be the property owner’s prerogative to expel someone who violated its weapons policies.
“The sign, itself, has no weight of law,” he said.
The woman in the Draper incident said that she became distracted while using the restroom and keeping track of her children, leading her to leave behind her handgun on a diaper-changing table.
Aposhian said restrooms can present a challenge to responsible gun owners who carry concealed weapons. Many restroom facilities do not include flat surfaces to safely rest a weapon on, and the most common handgun holsters rely on a person’s belt for support.
“Your support system basically falls down, so to speak,” Aposhian said. “It’s a heavy hunk of metal that, when not supported, tends to flop around.”