SALT LAKE CITY — The so-called "constitutional carry" gun bill that allows weapons to be concealed without a permit passed the House on Friday after being changed so a round can no longer be in the chamber.
HB76 was approved 51-18 and now goes to the Senate.
The change was made by the bill's sponsor, Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal. The bill had been put on hold by the House earlier this week so Mathis could meet with Gov. Gary Herbert, who has raised concerns about the bill.
Mathis said the bill allows someone openly carrying a gun without a concealed weapons permit to cover it with a coat or other attire. He said he proposed the bill initially because a hunter was "harassed quite heavily" by authorities for putting on a raincoat while carrying a gun.
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said he supported the change in the bill because it "gives a little more comfort to people."
But Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said the effect of the bill is to remove the state's permit requirement to carry a concealed weapon. Other lawmakers have said without the permit, gun owners would no longer have to pass a course or be subject to regular background checks.
Mathis substituted his bill to require guns concealed without a permit be unloaded, which means under Utah law they not have a round in the chamber. Similarly unloaded weapons already can be legally carried openly in Utah without a permit.
Herbert told reporters Thursday he was not pleased with Mathis' bill because it went beyond helping Utahns in largely rural areas who normally openly carry their weapons avoid running into trouble when they wear a jacket.
The governor, who said again that he believes Utah's current gun laws are adequate, has warned lawmakers he expects them to show restraint on gun legislation. Herbert's office said he won't comment further on the bill unless it makes it to his desk for action.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Senate Republicans have not yet talked about how they'll handle HB76.
"I think now that we know it's coming, we'll discuss the bill," he said.
Niederhauser, however, expressed his own concerns about the bill.
"The concealed carry law has functioned well," the Senate leader said. "I hate to see that diminished in any way."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said the change to Mathis' bill appeared to be well-received by the House, given the vote. Lockhart said it's up to the governor to decide whether the bill still goes too far.
If HB76 passes the Senate, the speaker said, "then the Legislature has made its position clear."
Contributing: Mary Mellor
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company