SALT LAKE CITY – In the ongoing legislative debate over Utah gun rights, Cache Valley’s lawmakers are solidly on the side of the 2nd Amendment.
The Utah House is currently considering a familiar proposal from Rep. Walt Brooks, R- St. George, that would allow Utahns to carry concealed weapons without obtaining a state permit to do so, a practice often referred to as “constitutional carry”.
All four of Cache Valley’s state representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of that measure (House Bill 60). Local senators said they are also generally receptive to the idea of constitutional carry in principle.
“I support (Brooks’) concept and this bill,” said Rep. Casey Snider during a Jan. 21 virtual town hall sponsored by the Cache Republican Party. “I actually think that (constitutional carry) is a good thing. Several of our nearby sister states have similar statutes in their codes.
“I’m a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment and I’m pretty confident that the House will support this bill. I certainly plan to.”
“I typically don’t comment on a house bill, because nobody knows what it will finally look like,” Sen. Scott Sandall explained. “But I’m fully in support of the 2nd Amendment. I concealed carry every day here on (Capitol) Hill (in Salt Lake City).
“I’m not against anyone carrying a weapon to protect themselves as a matter of self-defense. I think that’s an important right.”
Utah’s gun laws are considered to be among the most permissive in the United States.
Utah now requires a permit to carry a concealed firearm. After undergoing training and a background check to obtain a permit, a person may carry a firearm with a loaded chamber either openly or concealed.
Utah law also allows for open (unconcealed) carry of an unloaded firearm without a state permit.
Based on the presumption that the right to carry a firearm is a freedom guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, House Bill 60 would eliminate the requirement to obtain a state permit to carry a concealed weapon.
During debate over the proposal on Jan. 22 before the House Judiciary Standing Committee, Democratic representatives voiced familiar concerns about handgun proliferation and the alleged potential for increased public violence.
Brooks countered that recent studies in some of the 16 states that allow constitutional carry have found no increase in crime or violence.
Noel Gardner, a University of Utah Health psychologist, cautioned that increasing the availability of guns in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could result in higher rates of suicide.
Opponents of HB 60 also argued pragmatically that eliminating the permit requirement for concealed carry would result in handgun owners receiving less safety training.
“There is some value to the concealed carry permit course,” Sandall acknowledged, “ … in terms of understanding what the laws were concerning someone entering your home or being accosted on the street. It’s good to know what the laws are in one of those situations …”
Ultimately, members of the Judiciary committee advanced Brooks’ proposal on a strictly party line vote. The measure will have be debated in the full House prior to being sent to the Senate for review.
“I’m also a very strong defender of the 2nd Amendment,” said Senate newcomer Chris Wilson, referring to the uncertain status of HB 60. “So we’ll take a look at the bill and, as Sen. Sandall said, we’ll see what finally reaches the Senate.”
Previous attempts to pass similar bills in the Legislature in recent years were blocked by former Gov. Gary Herbert, but a gubernatorial veto seems unlikely this time around.
“I’m a co-sponsor on this bill,” said Rep. Joel Ferry, whose House district includes the Cache County communities of Cornish, Clarkston and Newton. “Our new governor (Spencer Cox) has indicated, depending on what the final statute looks like, that he’ll support this change as well. So I think that House Bill 60 has a good chance to make it to the finish line.”
According to the Legislature’s website, Brooks’ bill already has 33 co-sponsors in the Utah House, just five votes short of the number required to advance HB 60 to the Utah Senate.
Those co-sponsors include Cache Valley representatives Mike Petersen and Dan Johnson.
“I’m a 2nd Amendment person,” Johnson said simply. “The U.S. Constitution says things and those words matter. I believe them. That’s where I stand on (constitutional carry) and a few days ago I signed on as a co-sponsor of Walt’s bill.”