It does not change who can carry a firearm or where it may be carried. —Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal
SALT LAKE CITY — The House put debate on hold Tuesday on a controversial bill allowing concealed weapons to be carried without a permit after defeating a proposed amendment to limit the so-called "constitutional carry" to the state's smaller counties.
HB76 was described by sponsor Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, as simply allowing gun owners who now openly carry their weapons to untuck their shirts or put on jackets. Mathis said many of his constituents are not clear on when they're in violation of the law.
"It does not change who can carry a firearm," he said, "or where it may be carried."
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said the bill would "give some comfort to those who have consternation about seeing guns in the open." For his part, Oda said he liked "the element of surprise" that comes with a concealed weapon.
Current law allows anyone over 18 to openly carry a weapon and requires a concealed weapons permit for those who want to shield their weapons from view, except in their vehicles. The bill would let those 21 years or older conceal a weapon without a permit.
Several lawmakers expressed concern Utahns would choose to bypass the background check and class required for a concealed weapons permit if the bill becomes law. Others questioned the impact on the state's image.
"Is this the society we want to live in? Does this help bring tourism here? Is this the message we want to send?" House Minority Whip Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, asked. "Just because we can doesn't mean we should."
Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, tried unsuccessful to amend the bill to limit its reach to smaller counties. Several Republicans from urban areas backed the amendment, saying their constituents opposed the bill, but it failed to pass.
Mathis reluctantly agreed with a request to circle the bill from House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Odgen. Dee said later he wanted to make sure Mathis met with Gov. Gary Herbert before the bill advances. Herbert has called for restraint on gun legislation.
Also Tuesday, the House passed another gun bill, HB121, which provides gun owners a temporary "safe harbor" for their weapons with local law enforcement when their households are under stress.
That stress could be a child threatening suicide, marital problems or mental illness, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, calling it "completely voluntary" to get guns out of a home for up to 60 days.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 44-28 and now goes to the Senate.