A bill that would allow a person to carry an unloaded concealed weapon without a permit passed in the Utah House of Representatives Friday moving the state a step closer to a so-called constitutional-carry state.
Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, met with Gov. Gary Herbert this week to try and assuage concerns he had about the measure and HB76 was changed to remove the provision that would have allowed a person to carry a loaded concealed weapon without a permit.
Herbert said Thursday that he hadn't been inclined to support the measure - saying instead he felt the current system of obtaining a concealed weapons permit - was working well. Utah's concealed weapons permit is recognized in more than 30 states and requires a course to be completed by an applicant as well as submitting to a criminal background check.
With the changed bill, it passed 51-18.
"It's been a good debate," Mathis said. "It's been an honest debate."
Mathis agreed to remove the provision that would've allowed a person to carry a loaded, concealed firearm without a permit saying he "compromised significantly" on the bill.
The definition of loaded under Utah law is a full magazine with a bullet in the chamber. To be in compliance with the Mathis proposal, a round could not be in the chamber but the magazine could be full.
Much of the debate happened earlier in the week, however, when lawmakers wrangled over whether it would allow people who couldn't pass background checks to get a concealed-weapons permit to now obtain a gun and carry the firearm hidden from view.
"I believe it brings clarity to a current patchwork of laws on firearm possession in public," Mathis said. "I believe it maintains the status quo with respect to the schools, it will give gun owners the assurance they can do mundane things like untuck their shirt, put on a jacket or get out of their vehicle while running errands around town without risk of becoming a criminal for merely carrying a firearm in the wrong condition."
But in that debate Tuesday, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City worried it was more than that.
King said it would open up ineligible concealed carriers to suddenly purchase weapons and it would lead to more accidental discharges in public.
"What we're talking about with this bill is a significant stepping away from regulations about the bearing of arms and the use of them in our society," King said. "You're talking about the likelihood of significant … injury and death coming because of accidental discharge. You're talking about the likelihood of significant increases in the number of injuries and deaths that occur because individuals are driving down the road and they get angry somebody cut them off and you have somebody putting a bullet through somebody else's window."
In 2012, according to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, there were 628 concealed-weapons permits denied to applicants for a variety of offenses ranging from domestic violence convictions to violations involving drugs and alcohol.
States such as Vermont, Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Montana are labeled as constitutional carry states. Mathis, a veterinarian, said he proposed the measure largely as a matter of convenience and said he knew of a case where a man on a horse was harassed by law enforcement because a raincoat inadvertently covered his firearm. The man, who was not a concealed-weapons permit holder, was in violation of the law due to that act.
"It advances gun rights a little bit for those who are passionate about that," Mathis said.
The bill now moves to the Senate.