The state Senate gave its final approval Friday to a bill removing the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Utah.
HB60 will now head to the governor for signing after a stop in the House to approve amendments. Utah will be the 17th state to allow citizens to carry guns hidden from view without the need for a special permit.
After opponents expressed concerns that looser firearm restrictions could lead to an increase in suicide, the legislation was changed to establish a fund to focus on firearm safety and suicide prevention. Half of the money collected from concealed carry permit fees will flow to this new effort. Legislative attorneys estimate the new fund will generate more than $2 million for suicide prevention in its first year, and another $1 million the following year.
But, if there’s no requirement for Utahns to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, what’s the point? Sponsors believe that many Utahns will still apply and pay for their permit because they’ll need it to legally carry a concealed weapon in another state. Additionally, a large number of Utah concealed carry permit holders are from out of state.
“Our permits are reciprocated in other states. Half of our permits that are issued are to residents of other states,” said Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville.
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, argued the bill does not send a good message in the current political climate.
“We’ve got many bills coming forward trying to limit police officers and their use of deadly weapons. But then we turn around with a bill like this that just says ‘OK, let’s arm the citizenry,’” he said. “I just don’t think this is good public policy. We’re in 2021. This isn’t the Old West anymore.”
Gov. Spencer Cox has indicated he will sign the bill when it eventually makes its way to his desk, completing a process that started in 2013 when former Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed the first attempt to pass the bill. In the following years, Herbert frustrated repeated attempts to bring the bill back.
So, what will happen when the policy goes into effect? Will it lead to firearms flooding Utah’s streets, or will the effect be negligible?
A 2019 report from the Urban Institute suggests training on the safe handling of firearms may suffer. In Kentucky, which was the last state to adopt permitless concealed carry, the move eliminated a mandatory 8-hour training that covered handgun safety and marksmanship among other topics. Applicants for a concealed carry permit in Utah are required to take a class to get the permit, but weapons training is not a part of that curriculum.
“Those classes are primarily about learning gun laws,” said Rep. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross ,who argued misninformation about Utah’s current permitting process is the driving force behind opposition to the change.
“As I talk to people, they have this impression that people go to this class, they bring their gun and someone teaches them how to clean and shoot it. That’s just not the case. I think a lot of the hysteria around this bill is a misunderstanding of the current laws,” added Weiler.
State law requires a firearms familiarity course which, in addition to instruction on legal issues, is supposed to assure an applicant can safely load and unload, store and carry a gun.
“I can get a concealed carry permit without having one minute of training with a firearm. Going from this to the constitutional carry provision is not going to increase or decrease safety one iota,” said Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, who holds a concealed carry permit.
“It’s my own personal belief that if you are going to carry a firearm, you have a moral obligation to get training. I do not believe it is the government’s role to put limits or restrictions on my right to defend myself and my family. But it is my duty to get trained on my firearm if I’m going to carry it around either openly or concealed,” Anderegg continued.
Gun sales are surging in America right now. In January alone, more than 2 million firearms were sold according to an analysis of federal gun background-check data. That’s an 80% increase in year-over-year numbers and the third-highest one month total on record.
But, according to supporters of easing gun restrictions, those background checks only apply to responsible gun owners who play by the rules.
“Criminals are going to have guns and they are going to conceal them and do whatever they do,” said Hinkins. “All this does is allow law-abiding citizens to put the gun in their purse or put on a jacket.”
The bill passed the Senate on a straight party-line vote, 22-6, but must make a stop back in the House to approve amendments before it heads to the governor.