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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker is furthering his bid to make Utah the next state to allow concealed carrying of firearms without a permit.
And in case that doesn't work, another lawmaker is looking to suspend that permit requirement amid a declared state of emergency — whether that be for an earthquake, a flood and, yes, a pandemic.
Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, is sponsoring HB60 in the Utah Legislature's upcoming 2021 general session, set to begin Jan. 19. The bill's language mirrors legislation he filed in the final days of the 2020 session, which would remove the state's requirement for law-abiding Utahns over the age of 21 to have a permit to lawfully carry a concealed firearm.
"Every single person has the right to protect themselves," Brooks said, arguing that right should extend to people uncomfortable with openly carrying firearms. "It's allowing a law-abiding citizen to be allowed (to put their gun) under their jacket or a wife to put it in her purse."
Currently, 16 states allow concealed carrying of firearms without a permit: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, North Dakota (residents only) and Wyoming (residents only). Four others allow permitless concealed carry with certain limitations: Illinois, Montana, New Mexico and Washington.
Utah law currently allows people who are legally able to possess a firearm to openly carry their guns in public. A permit is only required for carrying a concealed firearm.
Brooks said he's confident his bill will win the support it needs to become law — from both the Legislature and Gov.-elect Spencer Cox.
"Both Gov.-elect Cox and Lt. Gov.-Elect (Deidre) Henderson have said they would support a constitutional carry bill and look forward to working with the sponsors on the details," Cox's spokeswoman, Jennifer Napier-Pearce, said in a text Wednesday.
In 2013 Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed a similar bill, at the time arguing Utah's permitting system "has been in place for decades, and in its current form for more than 15 years. In that time, it has become a national model."
But since then, Brooks said studies have shown concealed carry permit laws don't have an impact on violence or crime. After four years of grappling with the issue, he said he's ready to make the case that Utah should do away with the concealed carry permit requirement altogether.
"This is really not a left and right issue," Brooks said. "This is just a good data issue."
Brooks pointed specifically to a 2019 study by the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, which found state level concealed carry laws had no impact over 30 years, from 1986 to 2015, on homicide, violent crime and public health indicators.
"So basically it does no good to take away someone's right to carry," Brooks said. "They see no difference."
Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, hopes Brooks' bill wins approval, but he's also running a more targeted bill, HB61, to suspend the concealed carry permit requirement during a declared state of emergency. If Brooks' bill passes, it will make Maloy's bill moot. But Maloy said he's still sponsoring the legislation in case Brook's bill doesn't succeed, arguing it would allow Utahns to exercise their Second Amendment rights discreetly amid times of fear and uncertainty.
"Especially in the early days of the pandemic, we were having shortages all over the place. People were feeling very unsure, very nervous about their ability to provide for their families and their safety," Maloy said, pointing to hoarding of cleaning supplies, toilet paper and ammunition as indicators that Utahns and Americans had "great concern for their persons and their families."
So whether that's in the wake of an earthquake that fractures Utah's infrastructure — or amid a pandemic that disrupts everyday life — Maloy said Utahns should be able to legally carry their guns, regardless whether that firearm is out in the open or under a jacket.
"People should be able to exercise that right in a time when people may be scared or feeling insecure or in danger," Maloy said.
The bills are expected to meet their fair share of pushback on Capitol Hill from those who have been pushing Utah for more gun restrictions, not less.
"We are living through a gun violence crisis in America, and some politicians in Utah not only don't seem to care about it, they are running bills that will make it more likely that people will shoot each other," said Katie Matheson, spokeswoman for the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah. "We shouldn't wait until we have a crisis in Utah. We need our representatives to wake up — these bills are tragedies waiting to happen."
Brooks said he's positive removing the concealed carry permit requirement won't make any difference of gun violence in Utah. "There have been plenty of states with plenty of years of experience and plenty of study showing this is a good safe policy."
Brooks said he "has to chuckle" when people express concerns about doing away with the concealed carry class Utahns are required to take in order to obtain the permit, saying those who question whether that's a good idea "have never taken that course."
"It doesn't teach you how to use a weapon," he said, arguing it's up to individual responsibility to learn how to operate a gun safely before carrying one. "Our laws should balance personal responsibility with wisdom and reason. And it should across the board. Why do we need so many regulations? This person should be responsible for their actions, and when people make mistakes, then they're liable."
Clark Aposhian, Utah Shooting Sports Council chairman, said the bill wouldn't be a "huge leap" but rather a "tiny, tiny step in the permissibility of carrying a gun." He called it a "commonsense carry" bill, and one that would bring more logic to Utah's current gun laws.
"It's not like we're venturing out into something that no other state has done," Aposhian said, also citing other state data about no impact on crime or violence. "I seriously doubt Utahns in general ... will notice any change whatsoever in their day-to-day life with this."
Ermiya Fanaeian, who co-founded the Utah chapter of March for Our Lives before she reopened the Salt Lake Chapter of the Pink Pistols, a pro-gun, pro-LGBTQ group, said she thinks both bills "do indeed keep the values of the Second Amendment in mind and in many ways are keeping an idea of how to remove bureaucratic procedure that makes accessing protection inaccessible for everyday Utahns."
"However, with this in mind we also understand the need of concealed carry permits and why they were introduced to begin with," Fanaeian said. "And those concerns are still very much valid today."
Fanaeian said she would like to see the bills "also introduce initiatives that would address these concerns in more impactful ways," including funding for community programs encouraging widespread gun safety.
"I hope any legislative initiative to make guns more accessible would also be followed with this as well," she said.