A group seeking tougher gun restrictions delivered a letter Monday to Gov. Gary Herbert, thanking him for signaling his opposition to a bill that would loosen restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon in Utah but also seeking assurances he'd veto it if it ever came to his desk.
Miram Walkingshaw, founder of newly formed group Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, arrived in Herbert's office with her 4-year-old daughter and a spokeswoman for a faith-based group seeking tighter gun-control measures in the wake of the mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado.
She said she was troubled by a series of gun bills introduced in the Utah Legislature, but she said they chose to target HB76 as the most dangerous proposal working its way through the session.
"It's a big step in the wrong direction," she said.
However, she said she was encouraged by Herbert's recent comments and felt a measure of confidence that he'd reject the bill.
HB76, which passed the House 51-18 but remains mired in the Senate Rules Committee, would allow an adult to carry a firearm concealed without obtaining a state-issued permit. However, the gun would have to be unloaded to for a person to carry concealed without a permit.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, said he carried the bill to assist gun owners who may inadvertently conceal their weapon while adjusting a raincoat or putting on a jacket. And the Utah Shooting Sports Council, which has strongly backed the measure, said the bill aligns with the Second Amendment.
"It's disappointing the governor doesn't fully understand what this bill does," Board member Bill Pedersen said. "The reason this bill was brought up is Rep. Mathis lives in a district where he's got people working cattlemen and ranchers whose work involves them carrying a firearm. But if they put a raincoat on and cover it up, they're in violation of the law. This is a great bill."
The letter, signed by seven groups including the League of Women Voters and the Alliance for a Better Utah, lays out a case to Herbert that the so-called constitutional-carry bill would endanger more lives while also hurting the economy.
"Our liberal gun laws paint Utah as an unsafe place for new businesses to relocate," the letter read in part. "These laws could also decrease tourism and affect our ability to attract important business conferences."
It also cited a poll released last week by BYU that found 82 percent of Utah residents support tougher background checks a flaw cited by some in HB76 that would allow some who were denied concealed weapons permits a chance to buy a firearm without going through that check. However, that same poll also showed 60 percent opposing a national ban on semi-automatic weapons.
Ally Isom, Herbert's deputy chief of staff, issued a statement Monday in response to the back-and-forth.
"As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Governor Herbert is satisfied that Utah's current laws are sufficient. He prefers to see legislation that informs, rather than inflames, the discussion."
Herbert said recently he thinks the laws currently on the books are sound and that he hadn't been too pleased with the bill Mathis proposed.
Currently, there are about a half-dozen states with so-called constitutional carry laws on the books, including Arizona, Montana, Wyoming and Vermont.