Gov. Herbert to meet with NRA leaders in Washington, D.C.

Published: Thursday, Oct. 8 2015 9:23 p.m. MDT

Utah Governor Gary Herbert (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Governor Gary Herbert (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert is scheduled to meet Tuesday with National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre during a four-day visit to Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Neither the governor's office nor the NRA responded to requests for information about the meeting, which appears on Herbert's schedule for the trip alongside meetings with federal government and financial industry officials.

But University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the NRA likely wants to talk about the governor's veto of HB76, a "constitutional carry" gun bill passed by the 2013 Legislature and backed by the gun-rights association.

"The NRA likes to keep very close track of what happens in states with guns and firearms," Burbank said. "Clearly for Gov. Herbert, this is not a group you want to have actively opposing you."

Herbert was endorsed by the NRA in both his 2010 and 2012 elections as "a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and of Utah's hunting and sporting heritage," earning an "A+" rating from the association.

In an interview with NRANews.com during the August 2012 Republican National Convention, Herbert said, "I think the fact that we have the right to bear arms is important and needs to be protected, and certainly Utah is doing our part."

But the governor decided to veto the controversial bill that would have no longer required a permit to carry a concealed weapon as long as there was no round in the chamber. Lawmakers did not have the votes for an override session.

Opponents included law enforcement, government and faith leaders, including the Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank.

Herbert said at the time the state's current concealed weapons permit system works well and that Utah needed a gun policy that sends the message "we have a quality of life that is sophisticated and that we're not the wild and woolly West."

The NRA did get support from Utah last week, when the state joined 22 others in a court brief supporting the association's challenge to a federal law banning licensed dealers from selling handguns to buyers under 21 years old.

And both of Utah's senators, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, sided with the NRA against the gun-control bill pushed by President Barack Obama in the wake of last year's deadly school shooting in Connecticut.

The association celebrated the win at its annual convention in May, with LaPierre telling a cheering crowd in Houston, "We will never surrender our guns, never," and vowing to oppose any new gun control legislation from Congress.

Burbank said he expects Herbert to use the meeting to explain his veto decision and discuss future gun-related legislation that may surface in the 2014 Legislature.

"I suspect the public relations announcement for this will be this is just a meeting of interested parties who are interested in the laws of the state of Utah," the professor said.

The governor shouldn't have too tough a time with the NRA, he said.

"I don't think it's too hard for the governor to make his case he's not anti-gun, despite what the NRA in Washington may have heard," Burbank said.

Steve Gunn, who serves on the board of directors of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, said while he wasn't sure what the purpose of the meeting was, he understood why Herbert would attend.

"Although I don't like the NRA, I don't see any reason why the governor shouldn't talk to them," Gunn said. "It's a very powerful organization."

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