Barton Glasser, Deseret News
Instructor Steve Beckstead helps Brandy Vega of Channel 4 during the class at Lee Kay Shooting Range.

Amid an avalanche of new interest in Utah's widely recognized concealed-carry firearm permit, two of the state's best-known gun-rights advocates hosted a no-cost class to acquire the permit for Salt Lake media members on Sunday.

Applications for Utah concealed-carry permits have skyrocketed this spring according to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, the agency tasked with issuing and administrating concealed weapon carry permits. Last February's 2,548 applicants jumped to 8,142 this year and March permit seekers more than doubled from 4,412 in 2008 to 10,878 in 2009.

Clark Aposhian, a registered lobbyist, firearm instructor and chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, and Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, offered the $50 class free of charge to seven print and television journalists whose attendance qualified them for applying for the state issued permit (though the cost of that permit, for those interested in acquiring one, was the responsibility of the applicant). Aposhian, who regularly instructs law enforcement officers and security personnel on firearm handling, said drawing a weapon in self-defense is a last-resort scenario.

"Always issue a warning, always try to retreat first," Aposhian told the class. "Disengagement and non-engagement should be your first options, whenever possible."

If those options are not successful in defusing an encounter with a person who poses a threat, however, Aposhian's instruction includes frank and explicit explanations of the next, and nearly unthinkable, steps to take.

"Law enforcement officers are trained to shoot three times, two to the chest, one to the head," Aposhian said. "For civilians, the easiest target is the thoracic cavity (chest area.)"

While portions of Aposhian's class include squirm-inducing discussions of "what-if" scenarios, much of the roughly four-hour session is spent reviewing the safe storage and handling of firearms, state laws that govern the use of a firearm for the purpose of self-defense and how to avoid getting into situations that could result in gunplay. Aposhian said it is a very rare instance when a situation escalates to the point where a person must draw his or her firearm in defense, and the chances for an action to be required beyond that is infinitesimal.

"More than nine times out of ten, I point a gun at somebody and they're going to do what I tell them," Aposhian said.

Oda told the class that street-wise criminals can usually sense the confidence of someone who is carrying a weapon for self-defense and that subtlety, in itself, can lead to the avoidance of confrontation.

Oda was the House sponsor of this year's SB78 — one of two bills passed by the 2009 Legislature that eased gun control laws in Utah. SB78, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, allows Utah residents to have a loaded gun in their vehicle on private property, even if the property owner expressly forbids firearms. The other bill, HB357, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, allows Utahns to carry a loaded weapon in their vehicle without a concealed weapons permit. Both bills passed by overwhelming votes, though a March Deseret News-KSL TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates showed the majority of voters who responded were opposed to both bills.

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Utah's conceal-carry permit program has also come under fire for the administrative costs associated with issuance of thousands of out-of-state permits. Utah's permit is recognized in over 30 states and is considered relatively easy to obtain. For that reason, more than 12,000 permits have been issued outside of Utah, and more than 600 instructors are certified in other states to provide the training to obtain the permit. Modifications to the permit program were discussed by an interim legislative committee last summer, but no action was taken.

Contributing: Ben Winslow and Lisa Riley Roche