Utah lawmakers will consider whether to significantly expand gun rights and further clamp down on the ability of local governments to put restrictions on firearms when the 2021 session gets underway later this month.
Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, is reviving the “constitutional carry” bill, which would give any law-abiding Utahn the ability to carry concealed weapons in public without a permit. Similar bills have met their demise over the past decade by veto or threatened vetoes from former Gov. Gary Herbert.
Brooks pushed the idea in the waning days of the 2020 session and it died without a committee debate.
“A lot of people don’t understand that this bill won’t allow someone who has a domestic violence case, if you are on drugs if you have a DUI in any form to carry a concealed weapon,” says Brooks, emphasizing that the law does not apply to those who are prohibited from having a firearm.
Brooks says he’s confident the bill will be successful in the 2021 session, as he has a firm commitment of support from new Gov. Spencer Cox.
“I met with him several times. He’s endorsed the bill and said he will sign it,” says Brooks, who plans to work with Cox and his administration to iron out any wrinkles that could derail the bill.
Brooks says his bill won’t completely do away with the need for Utahns to possess a concealed carry permit. They’ll still have to hold one if they plan to travel to one of the many states that honor Utah’s license.
If Brooks’ effort goes awry, Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, is right behind him with another gun bill that suspends the requirement for a concealed carry permit in Utah if the governor declares a state of emergency for any reason.
“During an emergency, people are very unsure of what’s happening. It creates a situation where they could feel insecure or scared to the point of wondering how they defend themselves,” said Maloy.
The bill covers every state of emergency declared by the governor. Utah has been under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic since March of last year. Even in that case, Utah’s concealed carry permit requirement would be suspended had Maloy’s proposal been in place.
Maloy, who has not shied away from pushing for expanded gun rights since he was first elected to the Legislature in 2016, also wants to tighten the 20-year-old state law that reserves to the Legislature the ability to regulate firearms.
This is the second year in a row Maloy is running the bill. Last year, it passed through the House but was derailed in the Senate after Republicans decided to not consider any firearms-related bills.
Maloy’s bill does make an exception for local governments to restrict what kinds of guns or ammunition can be used at a public gun range. Local governments can also prohibit guns at homeless shelters.
The bill first popped up in 2019 after Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson moved to require federal background checks for all firearms purchases at county facilities, which closed a loophole that exempted private sales from such regulations. That impacted several gun shows booked in the county. Maloy says that was simply a coincidence, and he was working on his bill prior to that incident.
“If we had different firearm-related laws in different cities and counties, it would be very difficult for a gun owner to know what the law is. If they were driving around town you cross a city line, there could be different regulations,” he said.
The Legislature first enacted the preemption law in 1999 that gives the Legislature sole authority over firearms laws. It states that, “unless specifically authorized by the Legislature by statute, a local authority or state entity may not enact or enforce any ordinance, regulation, or rule pertaining to firearms.”