SALT LAKE CITY — Deadly mass shootings and talk of gun control around the country drove applications for Utah's concealed weapons permit to a record high.
The state Bureau of Criminal Identification has already issued 31,000 more permits through August than it did all of last year, and is projecting a total of 138,720 for 2013.
In addition, BCI ended the 2013 fiscal year with a $2.3 million revenue surplus, prompting at least one state lawmaker to wonder whether the state is charging too much for the permit. Utah residents pay $46 and nonresidents pay $51. The renewal fee is $15.
BCI chief Alice Moffatt said the agency had "bins and bins" of applications in February, March and April when the numbers swelled to more than 18,000 per month. She attributed the surge to last year's shootings in Connecticut and Colorado and gun control legislation.
"That seems to spur people getting their concealed weapons permits," she told the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday.
Permit renewals will exceed 40,000 this year, a 42 percent increase, Moffat said.
Non-Utahns hold 62 percent of the state's 325,293 valid permits. Thirty-five states recognize Utah's concealed weapons permits.
Weapons instructor Jack Arguello said he saw a "big increase" at the beginning of the year in his course enrollment in Davis County, with five times more people enrolling than in previous years. He attributed the increase to what he called the "anti-gun rhetoric."
Adam Eaton, co-owner of Joe Firearms, said he has seen the pattern of business picking up when the public perceives that gun control laws could change.
"You're getting knee-jerk reactions and you're getting people panicking," he said.
His store sold 50 guns in 2012 but has sold 200 so far this year.
Sister company Joe Academy on average sees eight to 10 people attend each weapons training course. In February and March, their courses saw up to about 60 people per session, Eaton said.
Part of his company's goal is to educate the public on gun safety, he said, covering subjects such as gun safety around children and compliance with local laws.
"It's kind of a big deal. It's not something you take lightly," he said.
BCI took in more than $5 million in the budget year that ended June 30. After operating expenses, it was left with $2.3 million in revenue.
Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Ogden, said the state never intended to make money on concealed weapons permits. He suggested possibly reducing the fee for Utah residents.
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said the Legislature cut the fee dramatically over the years and the revenue surplus was an anomaly.
Moffat said permit applications started slowing down to 7,000 to 10,000 a month in July and BCI is projecting it will make $2 million less in the current fiscal year.
Lawrence Mudgett is co-owner of Marksmanship Matters, where he and his wife teach self-defense with firearms and concealed carry courses. Mudgett said business has increased steadily over the years.
Mudgett compared gun education and ownership with food storage and financial preparation, saying that it is another element of self-reliance.
"People are starting to realize and understand that they can't depend on other people for their security," he said.
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