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The Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert may be headed for another shootout over whether to allow Utah gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, unveiled HB112 on Friday to do that. It is similar to a bill by former Rep. John Mathis that Herbert vetoed in 2013. The governor recently said he would veto similar bills unless significant modifications are made.
Utahns now may legally carry guns openly, Perry said. With his bill, "if they happen to cover it up," such as with a coat, "it will not be a crime unless they do something else like an assault, or threaten somebody."
He poses a hypothetical to explain the purpose of the legislation. "Say I'm out hunting one day and have my sidearm on. I happen to stop at the gas station on the way home and it's cold. So I put my coat on and walk into the store." If his bill passes, he said, "If an officer sees me, he's not going to cite me and give me a Class B misdemeanor."
Mathis used similar arguments to pass his bill in 2013, and said a hunter was hassled by a ranger for covering a gun with his coat when it started to rain. But Herbert told The Tribune in September that he checked into that claim and said it never happened.
"If you have to manufacture an incident just to justify changing a law, then that's probably not a good foundation to build upon," the governor said.
Herbert vetoed the earlier bill, saying the state's current concealed weapon permit system which requires owners to take a course and pass a background check works well. And he liked how constant court checks help weed out permit-holders who commit a crime, leading to revocation.
Perry is a Utah Highway Patrol lieutenant, but said his bill is not endorsed by his or any other law-enforcement agency. He has not talked to Herbert about his new bill, but hopes to soon, and believes it will pass.
While similar to the 2013 bill, Perry said his proposal adds a provision he believes may help maintain the popularity of Utah's concealed-carry permits.
The new bill would hold businesses harmless for acts with weapons by permit holders they allow on their premises. Homeowners currently enjoy that protection, Perry said, and he wants to extend it to businesses.
He said his bill would not do away with the need for Utah's concealed-weapon permit.
"With this bill, there may be a few people who chose not to have it [a permit]. But if I want to leave the state of Utah and carry, I'm going to need it," he said. "The [proposed] law doesn't follow me when I leave Utah."
Utah currently has issued 674,345 concealed weapon permits, according to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification. Only a third of them 232,927 are issued to Utahns. Out-of-staters hold the rest, and often seek the Utah permit because it is recognized by 36 other states.
Steve Gunn, board member of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, opposes the new bill.
"If you follow Representative Perry's idea, that means that you won't be doing background checks on people who want to carry concealed weapons, and won't be requiring them to take the concealed-weapons training classes," said Gunn.
"The Legislature must have seen merit in those classes, because they have required them for decades."
Gunn believes the proposed change could pose risk to law-enforcement officers because now when they find encounter someone carrying with a permit, they know the holder has gone through a background check. That would change under the plan to eliminate the requirement for a permit. "I'm surprised a law enforcement officer is sponsoring this," he said.
Laws to allow concealed weapons without permits are often called "constitutional carry," and they have been enacted in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Perry said he instead prefers to call his proposal "common-sense carry."