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'Constitutional carry' law could create showdown between governor, legislators

Published: Wednesday, March 13 2013 11:15 a.m. MDT

Bill HB76 passed by more than a two-thirds majority in both the House (51-18) and the Senate, making it "veto proof" provided lawmakers who favored the bill wouldn't change their minds in an override session.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A showdown between Gov. Gary Herbert and state lawmakers could be coming now that the Utah Legislature has passed a so-called "constitutional carry" gun law.

The Senate passed HB76 Wednesday by a vote of 22-7, with all five Democrats and two Republicans voting against it.

Although Herbert has stopped short of saying he would veto HB76, he reiterated several times that Utah's gun laws aren't broken and don't need changing. But should he reject the bill, the Legislature could override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

The measure passed by more than a two-thirds majority in both the House (51-18) and the Senate, making it "veto proof" provided lawmakers who favored the bill wouldn't change their minds in an override session.

Both chambers' votes on HB76, sponsored by Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, were barely over the two-thirds threshold.

Several anti-gun violence groups already are calling for the governor to stop the bill from becoming law, and the Alliance for Better Utah launched an online petition Wednesday urging a veto.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she believes the veto-proof majority in the House is solid.

Lockhart, who urged the governor to veto more bills in her opening address to the House, said that if a bill is "good policy that the people of this state need, we'll override it." Asked if she believes HB76 fits that criteria, she said: "I don't know yet, seeing that the votes said it did."

"I think the votes speak for themselves," added House Majority Assistant Whip Don Ipson, R-St. George.

The constitutional carry law would allow someone to pack a gun under a coat or other attire without a state-issued concealed weapons permit. Permits are obtained by paying a fee, taking a class and passing a background check. Shooting a gun is not part of the course.

The House amended the original bill to require that weapons concealed without a permit be unloaded, which under Utah law means they do not have a round in the chamber.

In a brief Senate debate Wednesday, Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, the Senate sponsor of HB76, said the bill protects the constitutional right to carry a gun.

"It simply gives honest people the right to do what they cannot do honestly right now, and that is cover up the weapon," he said. "The bad guys will always have the advantage of not obeying the laws. This bill will help honest people be more comfortable in defending themselves."

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the law would bring dire consequences.

"I think this is going to cost lives, at least in my district," he said. "I think this is a bullet too far."

Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said the bill is a step but not a huge stride for gun rights. The fact is, he said, Utahns carry guns.

"If you're going to run around worrying that someone is carrying a gun concealed, don't leave your house," Aposhian said.

A recent survey by the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy found 82 percent of Utahns favor universal background checks on all potential gun buyers. Key Research conducted the poll of 500 registered voters in January. It has a 4.4 percent margin of error.

"There never was a clearer example of our state Legislature being out of step with the majority of Utahns," said Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah.

The law doesn't change anything about who can carry a weapon or possess a firearm, Christensen said.

The alliance and six other groups — Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, the Utah Gun Violence Prevention Center, Rape Recovery Center, League of Women Voters of Utah, Gun Sense: Action for Gun Violence Protection, and the American Association of University Women — want Herbert to veto the bill.

Aposhian, who taught the class in which Herbert obtained a concealed carry permit, doesn't know which way the governor will go on the bill.

"I think I'll listen to the governor first, see what he has to say. I want to find out what his concerns are," he said.

Aposhian said he expects the number of Utahns seeking concealed weapons permits will drop under the new law, except for those who like to carry outside the state. Utah's permit is recognized by 34 states.

Another controversial gun measure, HB114, remains in the Senate Rules Committee. It asserts that Utah has the right to bar the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Wednesday that Senate leaders have not decided whether to move it to the floor.

The Legislature also passed a noncontroversial gun bill Wednesday.

HB121 allows people to take guns to a police department for storage for up to 60 days, no questions asked. Bill sponsor Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said the idea is to provide a "safe harbor" for weapons when a family might be despondent due to marital problems, mental illness, suicidal thoughts or other issues.

It now goes to the governor for consideration.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

E-mail: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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