Gov. Spencer Cox signs bill to eliminate requirement of permit to carry concealed gun

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo via AP) This March 1, 2018, file photo shows Jared Larson carrying a concealed firearm with a new provisional state permit, Centerville, Utah. On Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, gun-rights activists issued a celebratory news release saying Utah Gov. Spencer Cox had signed a bill to do away with the law requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Gun-rights activists on Friday were celebrating as Gov. Spencer Cox signed legislation wiping out the law requiring Utahns to have a state permit to legally carry a concealed gun.

”With the passage of this bill, Utah joins 17 other states with some form of permitless concealed carry,” Cox said in a prepared statement on HB60. “This bill protects Second Amendment rights, reduces permitless open carry (which is already legal), and includes significant funding for suicide prevention.”

A news release from the National Association for Gun Rights hailed the legislation.

“Constitutional Carry is the simple concept that law-abiding citizens who are legally allowed to possess a handgun, should also be allowed to carry that handgun openly, or concealed, without having to pay a tax or obtain a government permit,” said the group, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest ‘no compromise’ pro-gun organization.”

The NRA also congratulated the governor for signing the measure

“There is no reason a law-abiding person should have to ask for permission to carry a firearm for self-defense,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director. “The passage of this bill demonstrates Utah’s commitment to protecting the Second Amendment rights of its citizens.”

The fledgling governor had previously said he supported the legislation, a departure from his predecessor. Former Gov. Gary Herbert had blocked legislation to do away with the concealed carry permit for years with a veto and, later, a promise of veto.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, and Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, takes effect May 5.

Opponents have warned that the measure will make Utah less safe.

Most suicides in the state involve a firearm, they note.

Additionally, the scrapping of the permit requirement also would mean that firearms familiarity courses, in which an applicant is supposed to demonstrate he or she can safely load and unload a gun, are also no longer mandatory.

Criminal background checks also will be eliminated for everyone who wants to legally carry a concealed weapon, and will only be required for those who seek a permit. Those checks prevented nearly 1,900 applicants from obtaining permits last year, including scores who had felonies on their record, from murder to robbery and sexual assault, according to state records.

Another feature of the current system is that the state database of concealed carry permit holders is run through a daily court check and those found to have a disqualifying charge or conviction have their permits suspended or revoked. The state suspended or revoked 2,400 permits last year, including at least one for a charge of disarming a police officer.

Supporters of the new legislation, though, contend many Utahns will continue to obtain a permit. That’s because Utah has an agreement with 36 other states that recognize its permit and allow holders to legally carry within their jurisdictions.

“Our permits are reciprocated in other states. Half of our permits that are issued are to residents of other states,” said Hinkins, the Senate sponsor.

Utah had issued 718,218 permits as of the end of 2020 — 427,639 to out-of-state residents and 290,579 to Utahns, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, argued against the bill on the Senate floor.

“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,’” Davis said. “I just don’t think this is good public policy. We’re in 2021. This isn’t the Old West anymore.”

Correction: 9:33 p.m. Feb. 12. Criminal background checks will continue to be required of those who apply for permits but will not be mandatory for everyone who legally carries a concealed gun.