House panel approves bill allowing Utahns to carry concealed weapons without a permit

Gov. Spencer Cox supports the measure, which makes passage likely.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, speaks at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. HB60, which would allow concealed carry of a firearm without a permit, was passed by the committee and sent to the full House for consideration.

A House committee on Friday advanced a bill that would allow Utahns to carry concealed weapons in public without a permit.

The bill from Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, is the latest iteration of the “Constitutional Carry” legislation that has been seen several times over the past few years in the Utah Legislature. Those proposals were derailed either by a direct or threatened veto from former Gov. Gary Herbert.

Current Gov. Spencer Cox, though, says he’s supportive of the concept and Brooks is confident he’ll sign the bill if it passes. Cox’s spokesperson confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday he still backs the legislation.

HB60 already lists 33 co-sponsors in the House. Including Brooks, just five votes short of what’s needed for passage. The bill advanced out of a committee 8-3 on a straight party-line vote.

Brooks says the requirement for a permit is, in his opinion, nonsensical at best, given all the other places you’re able to carry a weapon without restriction.

“In Utah, you can carry a concealed weapon in your home. You can carry on your property. You can carry in your vehicle. You can carry a weapon in the open. But if you put your jacket over that weapon in public, you’re now breaking the law,” he said.

Brooks says there are 19 other states that allow some version of permitless concealed weapons possession, most recently Montana.

“Sometimes I think the perception is that only redneck hillbillies from St. George want this. It’s good policy because the right to protect yourself is a constitutional right,” said Brooks.

Opposition to the bill mostly centered around whether loosening gun restrictions increased the risk of suicide by a firearm or whether the bill even created a benefit for Utahns at all.

House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, pointed out 85% of the firearm-related deaths in Utah were suicides and worried that more guns could worsen the situation.

“It’s hard to deny that the number of guns in people’s possession is likely to go up if we reduce the requirements for people to carry in a concealed way a loaded gun,” said King. “I just can’t avoid the logical conclusion that the more guns you have being carried, the more likely it is that you’re going to have ready access to guns for people who are going through a mental health crisis and may do harm to themselves or others.”

Noel Gardner, a University of Utah psychiatry professor, said the pandemic has raised stress levels among Utahns, which has increased the risk of suicide.

“This is exactly the wrong time to become more casual about guns. I run a free clinic that provides mental health for people who are very poor and have no insurance. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of people lose their jobs and their insurance. The suicide risk has gone way up. This is the time we need to become more serious about guns,” he warned.

Navy veteran Brandon Seghi disagreed with the notion that more access to guns brought a greater risk of suicide.

“Whether you believe it or not, people will kill themselves no matter what. Children will kill themselves. If we went this route, then we might as well say that we can’t go outside and breathe the air because there are so many hazards associated with all these different things,” he said, adding more training on gun safety would be more effective in preventing suicide.

“Who is going to benefit from this?” asked Ed Rutan with the Gun Violence Prevention Center. “The people who are going to benefit are lazy gun owners who won’t put the time and effort into learning what it means to be a responsible gun owner. That’s dangerous and is going to cause a problem for us in terms of suicide and domestic violence.”

Current Utah law requires a concealed-carry permit applicant to go through a criminal background check and to receive firearms familiarity instruction that includes the legal ins and outs of deadly force and brandishing. It also requires a gun owner to demonstrate he or she can safely load and unload a firearm.

The database of permit holders is run through court records on a daily basis in order to identify anyone charged or convicted of a disqualifying offense, with subsequent suspension or revocation of the permit.

Doing away with the requirement for a concealed carry permit in Utah does not eliminate the need completely. If Utahns want to carry a concealed weapon in another state that requires permits, they would still need to have a Utah license.

For supporters of the bill, it came down to individual rights.

“I believe any gun owner feels the weight of responsibility on them as they carry a gun,” said Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan. “I believe we should trust law-abiding citizens with their rights.”

“We always talk about freedom and then we try to figure out how to control it. This bill gives freedom back,” added Brooks. The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.