They just don't deem it important enough. Imagine that, it's a constitutional thing and they just don't consider it important enough. —Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden
SALT LAKE CITY — Even supporters of the controversial "constitutional carry" gun bill vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert admit it's going to be difficult to find enough votes for an override.
"They just don't deem it important enough. Imagine that, it's a constitutional thing and they just don't consider it important enough," said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, the Senate sponsor of HB76.
Christensen, who has been lobbying his fellow lawmakers for an override session, said he doesn't believe there will be the support needed unless the governor ends up vetoing other bills with more solid support before his Wednesday deadline.
But Herbert has publicly raised concerns about one other bill that he has not acted upon, SB271, which changes how public school performance is graded. There was significant opposition to the bill in the House.
Even though HB76 passed with slightly more than a so-called "veto-proof" two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, Christensen said some of those votes came from lawmakers who were reluctant to publicly oppose gun legislation.
He said their attitude now is: "'Why don't we just let it hide and not go either way.' We finally got the push to get it out and nobody dared vote against it. But they'd just as soon not vote on it again."
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who voted for HB76, also said it will be hard to override the bill, especially if it ends up being the only one vetoed by the governor.
"That's not to say gun rights, Second Amendment rights, aren't valued or aren't a priority," Hughes said. "It's not just a matter of if you would support the bill. You're now taking into consideration whether you're prepared to override your Republican governor and to go to extraordinary efforts to pass that bill. That's a very different question."
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he's not sure whether lawmakers will agree to an override session when they're polled in the week or so after the governor's deadline passes.
"It's hard for me to say today just how solid those votes are or not. At least I've heard some are softening," Niederhauser said.
Lawmakers must begin any veto override session by May 13.
The bill, which allows concealed weapons to be carried without any permit if the guns don't have a round in the chamber, was held for some time in both the House and the Senate before coming up for a vote.
The governor, who was urged to veto HB76 by the Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker, Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank and others, said throughout the session that he didn't see a need to change any of Utah's gun laws
Herbert said on Thursday that his advice to lawmakers is that "they ought to consider the public and, I think, take a little time to methodically think about HB76 specifically."
The governor, too, suggested the votes might not be there for an override. "We've had a number of legislators who have indicated, 'Maybe we were a little hasty here.' But we'll see what they do. They have that right and that role to play."
His role, Herbert said, is to "kind of be the brakes sometimes and make sure the legislation they pass does not have unintended consequences, which I think this one does for police and law enforcement."
Lawmakers did override two vetoes by Herbert in 2011, of bills earmarking 30 percent of future additional sales tax revenues for roads, and ending the state's four-day work week.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, an opponent of HB76, said there was little support to override the governor's veto in 2012 of a controversial bill intended to limit sex education. He said many lawmakers, especially the majority Republicans, felt pressured to vote for that bill during the session but did not want to have to deal with it again in a veto override session.
The Democrat said it appears the GOP may be in a similar position now with HB76.
"It'll be kind of fun to watch and see what happens," King said.
Steve Kroes, president of the Utah Foundation, a public policy research group, suggested the public might be on the governor's side on the issue.
"It seems that the public can be swayed by the governor a little more easily than by legislators perhaps. The governor seems to have a bigger bully pulpit," Kroes said, calling HB76 a way for lawmakers to send a message.
"People criticize message bills, but this is politics and messages are everything in politics, right? It's a way to tell the rest of the country, and especially the White House, that Utah cares about the Second Amendment," he said.
Although the bill surfaced in the aftermath of last December's deadly school shootings in Connecticut, the sponsor of HB76, Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, has said the bill was intended to help rural Utahns who openly carry their weapons legally.
Mathis said he came up with the idea for the bill after being told of a rancher who was harassed by a federal law enforcement official for putting a raincoat on over a holstered weapon.
An attempt during the 2013 Legislature to stop federal gun laws from being enforced in Utah died in the Senate.
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