A bill that would allow anyone over 21 to carry a concealed firearm now sits on the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert, who has three options. He may sign it into law, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it.
It is the third option he should choose, and he should go there without looking back.
The governor has said he is "skeptical" about whether the law is necessary. It isn't. The existing statute is one of the least-restrictive carry-conceal laws in the country. It balances the interests of gun-rights advocates as well as the majority of Utah residents who, polls show, support the current requirement of background checks before a person is granted a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
The law before the governor, HB76, ostensibly seeks to eliminate confusion that might arise when someone who openly carries a gun, as the law allows, somehow inadvertently conceals it while not carrying a permit. The circumstances that might give rise to such confusion are so limited as to raise the question of whether the stated intent of the law is really just camouflage.
The measure was commonly referred to on Capitol Hill as the "constitutional carry" bill, suggesting what it is really about — sending a message that Utah fervently seeks to uphold rights granted under the Second Amendment.
Message bills rarely result in sound policy, and that goes for proposals on both sides of the gun debate.
There is no shortage of message legislation in the aftermath of the terribly tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. We have spoken out against the propriety of passing gun-related laws aimed at preventing a recurrence of such a tragedy, when in fact there is little evidence the proposed laws would have that preventative effect.27 comments on this story
And just as we don't need laws that won't solve the problem they are intended to solve, we don't need laws to solve a problem that doesn't exist — as is the case with HB76.
The bill passed with a veto-proof majority, and should Herbert reject it, there is a chance the Legislature will convene in special session to override the veto. That at least would focus more direct public attention on the issue, which was certainly high profile during the regular session but also only one of several hundred bills debated on the Hill.
Should it resurface for debate in a special session, it is worth pointing out that similar legislation has previously failed to pass either the House or Senate. Two years ago, a similar bill was stalled in committee after law enforcement organizations raised concerns over eliminating the use of background checks that have prevented thousands of people with criminal records from obtaining a permit.
Those concerns remain valid. The bill before the governor would sacrifice a measure of public safety for the sake of sending a political message. We trust that the governor, as a former businessman and arbiter of many policy disputes, knows a bad trade when he sees one.