Concealed weapons should be banned from Olympic venues, members of the the Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee were told Wednesday.
Utah Public Safety Commissioner Craig Dearden said lawmakers need to change the state's concealed weapons law - at least temporarily - to keep guns out of Olympic venues like the University of Utah's Rice Stadium."As officers we don't know whether someone's a terrorist when he pulls a gun or if he's a citizen with a concealed-weapons permit," Dearden told the committee.
He called for a ban on concealed weapons within the competition sites and other venues during the 2002 Winter Games and the Paralympic Winter Games for disabled athletes.
Even legal weapons would bog down security checks. "I don't expect every third person to have a gun, but it'll still slow things down," the commissioner said.
Dearden also said money is needed to cover overtime costs during the Games. He estimated law enforcement officers will earn $15 million to $20 million in overtime either working at the Games or filling in for co-workers who do.
That's because there are only about 3,200 law enforcement officers in the state and an estimated 3,500 are needed to provide security during the Olympics.
Officers likely will be brought in from around Utah, as well as neighboring states. The money to cover the overtime will probably have to come from Utah taxpayers, Dearden said.
Nothing's been formally requested. State and local law enforcement officials continue to work on a master plan for Olympic security scheduled to be completed in December 1999.
As for banning concealed weapons at Olympic venues, Gov. Mike Leavitt and legislative leaders have already agreed the law needs to be changed. Some 15,000 Utahns hold concealed-weapons permits.
But the committee's co-chairman, Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, told the Deseret News after the meeting that state law already enables Olympic venues to qualify as so-called "secure areas" where guns aren't allowed.
In 1995, Waddoups sponsored legislation making it easier for Utahns to get a concealed-weapons permit. An effort to change the law this year so schools, churches and private businesses could ban guns failed.
State law defines a secure area as anywhere where firearms, ammunition, dangerous weapons or explosives are prohibited. It may not include any area normally accessible to the public.
During the Olympics, only those spectators, journalists and officials who pass through a security check will be allowed to enter the competition and other venue sites.
The check will include passing through a metal detector similar to those used at airports so security officials can find any weapons. That's what makes the venues secure areas, said Waddoups, a longtime advocate of gun rights.
That means, though, that a secure place to store concealed weapons brought to the venues would have to be made available. Deardon said law enforcement officials don't want to be responsible for storing guns during events.
He said signs could be posted at the parking areas designated for Olympic ticket holders, warning them that they have to leave their guns behind - in their cars and trucks.
Waddoups said law enforcement will have to provide secure storage. "I think they're going to have to do that. I don't want 50 cars out in the parking lot filled with guns," he said.
Whatever happens, would Utahns who have concealed-weapons permits even want to carry guns into the Games? Most of them won't, Waddoups said. But some will feel a need to come to the Olympics armed.
"I think there are going to be some who feel threatened or have a real concern. I think those people have to exercise their right to protect themselves or have security."