I would prefer to stake a stand, even if it's unpopular, one way or another, but there are occasionally times when my heart's with you but my brain isn't. —Gov. Gary Herbert
SALT LAKE CITY — Telephones rang constantly in the governor's office Monday as people weighed in on the so-called "constitutional carry" gun law the Utah Legislature passed last week.
Emails and letters also were streaming into the Capitol urging Gov. Gary Herbert to veto or sign controversial HB76.
West Jordan resident Steven Beckstead, a National Rifle Association certified instructor, wrote the governor asking him to reject the bill. He contends the law is a step in the wrong direction because gun carriers wouldn't have to receive instruction in self-defense law.
"The training requirement for use of force and avoidance would be gone. The bill does not require a person to know how, when and most important when not to engage in deadly force," said Beckstead, who has taught concealed carry permit courses for 18 years.
"As a trainer, I have encountered in every concealed carry class people who believe things work just like in the movies, which must be corrected, and what is truly disturbing is their misinformation about the use of force," he said.
The law would allow someone to pack a gun under a coat or other attire without a state-issued concealed weapons permit, provided the weapon is not loaded, which under Utah law means there is no round in the chamber. Permits are obtained by paying a fee, taking a class and passing a background check.
"We will have people who are not checked anymore who don't have training in the law and maybe in basic safety," Beckstead said. "With a right comes a responsibility. I think that's where I have some difficulty with HB76. We're moving backward because we're taking away the responsibility."
Bill Pedersen, a Utah Shooting Sports Council board member, says the bill is every simple and doesn't go against current law. For example, he said it would let a rancher or backpacker who wears a sidearm to cover it with a jacket in cold weather.
Bill sponsor Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, said he proposed the bill initially because a hunter was harassed by authorities for putting on a raincoat while carrying a gun.
Pedersen said the opposition to the law puzzles him.
"Their concerns are for the ill-fated. They're worried about the bad guy coming in. This allows the good guy to protect themselves," he said.
The shooting sports council sent an action alert to its members Monday urging them to contact Herbert and ask him to sign the bill into law.
"It doesn't allow an individual to bypass a background check on the purchase of a gun. It doesn't allow for them to illegally possess a gun. This bill is just a small step to a constitutional carry bill," Pedersen said.
The governor has three options. He can sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Herbert has stopped short of saying he would veto HB76, but reiterated several times that Utah's gun laws aren't broken and don't need changing. Should he reject the bill, the Legislature could override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote. The bill passed by slightly more than that margin in both the House and Senate.
"I have role, and I'll play it, and I'll play it right," he said in an interview before the Legislature adjourned last Thursday.
Herbert could recall only once allowing a bill to become law without his signature.
"I would prefer to stake a stand, even if it's unpopular, one way or another, but there are occasionally times when my heart's with you but my brain isn't," he said.
In its weekly survey, the online political newsletter Utah Policy found both Republican (52 percent) and Democratic (97 percent) insiders favor a veto.
"I hate this bill, but it is going to be law no matter what Herbert does. Best that he not antagonize his own party and save political capital so he can influence the Legislature on other bills," wrote one insider who wasn't identified as Democrat or Republican. "Although he is a pretty right-wing conservative, he has shown himself to be a bit of a modulating force against the Legislature's more wacky ideas."
Contributing: Richard Piatt