Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is considering proposing that anyone living out of state who wants a Utah concealed-weapons permit has to travel here to obtain the necessary training.
Concerns have been raised in the administration about continuing to allow non-Utahns to get concealed-weapons permits, because the state cannot adequately monitor either the permit holders or the out-of-state instructors who train them.
So now the governor is looking at asking lawmakers to do away with a certification program for out-of-state instructors and requiring that all concealed-weapons permit training take place in Utah. "If somebody wants a concealed-carry permit, let's use it as a travel and tourism opportunity," Huntsman said during last Thursday's taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7.
The governor said would-be permit holders should "come here to our state and go through the prerequisites here, while staying in our hotels and dining in our restaurants, as opposed to doing it somewhere in another state." The new proposal would be a compromise between keeping the current permit process in place and eliminating all out-of-state permits. Another option that's been mentioned is for Utah to issue permits and certify instructors only in states that agree to monitor them.
The compromise surfaced after members of the Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee chose to take no action at their mid-June meeting after hearing concerns about issuing concealed-weapons permits to non-Utahns.
Department of Public Safety officials, who oversee the permit process, say the new proposal would solve at least part of the problem by getting rid of the 600 or so out-of-state instructors. Currently, there are about 300 instructors in Utah.
DPS Lt. Doug Anderson said there is no way for him and the two other department employees involved in the permit process to keep track of out-of-state instructors. Typically, once certified, they're not checked on again until their certification expires in three years.
When the department is tipped off to abuses, Anderson said it can be difficult to follow up. For example, he said the department likely won't be able to send an undercover agent to investigate allegations an instructor in Arizona is "rubber stamping" applications without giving any training.
"I think what we're going to do here is send a letter of concern and hope they comply," Anderson said.
Other instructors, he said, charge as much as $300 for training and appear to be "mass producing applicants for the money."
Even if the state eliminates the out-of-state instructors, however, Anderson said there are still concerns over the out-of-state permit holders themselves. For the first time in the 13 years of the program, nearly as many permits are being issued to nonresidents as to Utahns.
The permits are good for five years and, just like with the out-of-state instructors, there is no monitoring of an out-of-state permit holder's criminal record until they apply for renewal. In contrast, Utah instructors and permit holders are checked daily for criminal activity.
Huntsman said he has "a hard time getting comfortable" with extending the concealed weapons permit program to non-Utahns.
"I have yet to identify where this serves any of our state's interests," the governor said. "There's no way to measure quality control. We're making use of our DPS personnel and their time that is otherwise better spent here in the state."
Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Richard Townsend said the department and the governor share the same concerns. He acknowledged that any change to the program will be a tough sell to those who support gun rights.
Like Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman. Wimmer, who sits on the interim committee that heard from Townsend and Anderson, said he opposes forcing would-be permit holders from outside Utah to come here for training.
"Maybe you don't have the money to travel out-of-state to come to Utah to spend a few days to take the class," Wimmer said. "We're segregating the folks who can afford to come here from those who can't."
Wimmer said all Americans have a right to defend themselves. "There are a lot of places where people can't get concealed weapons permits, and Utah has been able to fill that void," he said.
But Townsend said the issue involves state's rights as much as the Second Amendment."We recognize we're not going to make all the people happy," Townsend said. "This is such a polarizing issue."