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SALT LAKE CITY — Permits wouldn't be necessary for most people to carry concealed weapons in Utah if a state lawmaker gets his way.
Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, is sponsoring H.B. 76, which allows essentially any law-abiding citizen over the age of 21 in the state to carry a gun, openly or concealed.
Utah would effectively become a "constitutional carry" state if the measure is approved. That term refers to a state where carrying a concealed weapon isn't restricted by law.
It's unclear whether the bill can clear the Utah Legislature.
House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, said she supported Second-Amendment gun rights and law-abiding and responsible Utahns carrying guns, but she raised concerns about what would happen to one of Utah's most effective safeguards - daily background checks conducted on concealed carry permit holders. "If I had committed a violent act against another person in the meantime? That continued evaluation would not exist," Seelig explained. "I absolutely do not want to take any tools away from law enforcement."
Felons would still be barred from carrying concealed weapons, and it would still be illegal for people to be high or drunk while carrying. Brandishing laws would still apply.
The measure would also create a provision in state code dealing with penalties for the possession of a dangerous weapon, firearm or sawed-off shotgun on or about school premises.
The bill outlines that people would still be required to have a concealed weapons permit to legally bring a concealed gun on school grounds, unless it is approved by an administrator or is part of an approved activity.
Violators who bring a concealed gun to a school would be subject to class B misdemeanors for concealed weapons and class A misdemeanors for firearms and sawed-off shotguns.
Utah Shooting Sports Council chairman Clark Aposhian said though concealed weapons permits would no longer be required, the state's permit system would not go away.
For one, he said, Utah permits are extremely popular with people from out of state since they are accepted in 35 of 50 states. He also pointed out locals would still need the permits to travel with guns.
"Even though you may be legal to carry in Utah without a permit, if you go to these other states you can't there unless you have a permit and they recognize the Utah permit," Aposhian said.
Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird said HB76 had not yet been discussed by department brass.
A Salt Lake City-based lawyer with expertise on constitutional matters said the state would not be at risk of legal challenges and liability issues with the move.
"The state certainly has the leeway to become more lax," said Stewart Gollan at the Utah Legal Clinic. "If they impose more rigorous restrictions, they may run afoul of the Second Amendment."
Vermont, Alaska, Arizona, Montana and Wyoming currently are classified as "constitutional carry" states. There are a number of others with pending legislation.
Mathis' bill resembles state law in Vermont.
Aposhian said Utah was on the front edge of what should be a growing trend in the coming years. Gollan also acknowledged the pattern.
"It does seem that Utah is moving in a direction that certainly many of the western states have been moving," Gollan said.
KSL's repeated attempts to reach Rep. Mathis Wednesday were unsuccessful.
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