SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to allow the permit-free carrying of a concealed weapon in Utah faces a tough history of rejection as it heads to the 2017 Legislature for consideration.
Former Rep. John Mathis first introduced a "constitutional carry" bill in 2013, and it passed the Legislature before being vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert. Similar measures were proposed in 2015, but they failed to pass.
Utah law allows residents to carry a weapon in the open without a permit, but concealing it without the proper documentation is illegal.
Now, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, is working to push forward the measure again.
Perry is sponsoring HB112 under the belief that most Utahns would prefer not to see people walking around with a visible weapon strapped to their hip.
"We get the fact that some people may feel a little uncomfortable with (the bill)," he said. "People feel a lot more uncomfortable watching people walking around with open carry, and if we could just allow people to cover it up without making a big deal about it, it would sure be a lot easier."
Perry said he's aware of opposition to previous attempts to pass similar legislation, and he's open to feedback and ways to improve the bill.
Paul Edwards, Herbert's deputy chief of staff, said the governor would veto the legislation again if it's "identical to what he vetoed in 2013."
"If it is different, he would be open to a conversation about how a change could improve Utah’s existing gun laws," Edwards said.
Herbert has declined to comment on specific bills before they reach his desk, but his 2013 veto statement spells out his overall support for gun ownership and his reasons for concern about past "constitutional carry" measures.
"I heard that this legislation is needed because some fear they will be in violation of the law if, because of a sudden gust of wind, their coat temporarily covers their otherwise openly and legally carried firearm," Herbert said in his veto statement.
Herbert, a concealed firearm permit holder himself, concluded his veto statement by upholding Utah's existing concealed carry permit system.
"I understand that concern but am unwilling to discard an entire system that benefits the people of Utah and is supported by law enforcement when there could be a solution more narrowly tailored to address that issue," he said.
Perry said his measure differs from previous bills because it adds legal protections for those with a concealed-carry permit as an incentive to use the existing permit process. He said he hopes the legislation will protect gun owners such as hunters who openly carry firearms while hunting but may wish to cover the weapons in public.
The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City has opposed previous "constitutional carry" measures and hasn't changed its position with respect to Perry's bill.
"The Catholic Diocese recognizes the constitutional right to have guns in your home for self-defense. However, the Second Amendment does not grant unfettered rights, and as with all rights, there are also responsibilities. One such requirement is that you undergo a background check if you want to carry a deadly weapon in public spaces," the Salt Lake Diocese said in a statement.
"Rep. Perry's bill fosters a culture that devalues life, eliminates common sense protections for public safety, and promotes a culture of intimidation and death," the statement continued.
Despite opposition and concerns, Perry said he anticipates strong support for HB112 in the House and Senate.
If successful, Utah would join 11 other states — including Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming — that have passed measures allowing concealed carry of firearms without a permit.