University of Utah President Michael K. Young has temporarily suspended a long-standing campus weapons ban. The U. has also sought a stay in its federal lawsuit challenging Utah's concealed weapons permit law, which allows permit holders to carry guns onto college campuses.
University officials and state lawmakers now have an opportunity to make the university's policy comply with state law. This opening should not be squandered. In fact, it would be an excellent opportunity to fully review Utah's concealed weapons permit law in whole, which is one of the most permissive laws nationwide.
Since 1994, the state has issued more than 85,648 permits, although only 79,097 are presently valid. A growing number of permit applicants are from out of state. The Utah permit is a hot item because it's relatively inexpensive and is recognized by some 30 states under reciprocity agreements.
The popularity of the permit imposes huge workload demands on Bureau of Criminal Identification employees, who are required under state law to complete background checks for applicants within 60 days. That means other background checks including those for newly hired school teachers and substitute teachers are sometimes put on hold. That exposes children to risk and school districts to liability. Because the state requires children to attend school, teacher background checks should be a higher priority than concealed permit applications.
Part of the problem is resources. Despite the legislative mandate to conduct concealed weapons background checks in 60 days, and the huge demand for these permits, the state appropriation to oversee the program has not changed in 12 years. Fees generated by the program go into the general fund, even though costs to process the applications have swelled over the years. The Legislature should either adjust the department budget or permit the agency to retain a portion of fees collected to cope with the costs of this program and the way it delays other background investigations.
Utah's law is far more permissive than those in many states. It allows permittees to carry concealed weapons onto public school campuses, high school and college sporting events, college campuses and places of worship (although churches can adopt and publicly declare their own no-guns policies. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this newspaper, has registered its no-gun position.)
Other states have crafted constitutionally valid, common-sense restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in certain places. Utah surely could do the same.