Lawmakers in multiple states are moving to get the government out of the way of their citizenries’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Sixteen states already allow some form of constitutional, or “permitless,” carry (some only for residents), which allows citizens who can legally own and carry a firearm to carry concealed in places where it is legal to do so without first getting permission from the government.
Now, lawmakers in nine other states have proposed allowing or expanding this freedom. Governors in both Utah and Tennessee, for example, are behind constitutional-carry laws. Also, a bill expanding constitutional carry in Montana passed the state’s lower chamber.
The trend—thanks in part to lobbying from the NRA Institute for Legislative Action—has been toward freedom, but each state presents a different battle. In Utah, for example, the state legislature passed a bill in 2013 that would allow any law-abiding resident over the age of 21 to carry a concealed firearm without having to go through the process of obtaining a permit; however, the victory was short lived because then Gov. Gary Herbert (R) vetoed the legislation.
While Herbert continued to serve as governor, constitutional-carry advocates knew passing the bill would be futile. But, in January of 2021, a new governor was sworn in. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) was a supporter of the bill in 2013 when he was a state legislator. He and his Lt. Governor, Diedre Henderson (R), have both expressed support for the present bill, H.B. 60, introduced in the 2021 Utah Legislative Session that began on January 19.
H.B. 60’s sponsor, Rep.Walt Brooks (R), never thought he’d be part of a bill to remove the permitting requirement for concealed carry in Utah. Brooks was appointed to the Utah House of Representatives in 2016. He represents the far southwestern corner of the state—closer to Las Vegas than Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City. Shortly after being sworn in, his constituents brought the 2013 bill to his attention.
The bill amends Utah code pertaining to the penalties associated with incorrectly or illegally carrying concealed. Utah Code Section 76-10-504 is titled “Carrying concealed firearm – Penalties.” At the end of the list of offenses, the proposed legislation adds one sentence: “Subsection 76-10-504(1) does not apply to a person 21 years old or older who may otherwise lawfully possess a firearm.”
Simply put, if you can legally own a firearm and are 21 years old, you can carry it concealed without a permit, according to this legislation.
Gov. Herbert argued against the bill, saying, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, Rep. Brooks agrees. “This legislation doesn’t affect Utah’s concealed carry process at all and I encourage [people to get their permit]. There are still a lot of good reasons to get your concealed-carry permit.” For example, Utah’s neighbor, Wyoming, requires non-residents to have a concealed-carry permit issued by their home state if they want to carry in the Cowboy State.
Opposition to the bill has centered around three issues.
First, detractors claim removing the requirement for a concealed-carry permit will encourage bad actors to carry guns and to commit crimes. According to Katie Matheson, representative for the progressive Alliance for a Better Utah, as stated in a report at KSL.com, “…politicians in Utah…are running bills that will make it more likely that people will shoot each other…these bills are tragedies waiting to happen."
Brooks’ response is matter-of-fact: He cites data from a 2019 study by the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, which details the impact of state concealed-carry laws over 30 years. The study’s conclusion says, “This study demonstrated no statistically significant association between the liberalization of state level firearm carry legislation over the last 30 years and the rates of homicides or other violent crime.”
Brooks also refers to the reality that many other states have similar laws allowing concealed carry without a permit and have experienced no attributable increase in violence.
Other arguments against the legislation include that it will remove revenue from the state’s coffers that previously came from concealed-carry permit fees. Rep. Brooks says, “There is no decrease in revenue. It’s net neutral.” Permit holders pay only what it costs the state to process the application anyway.
A final argument is that without the permitting process, those who carry concealed will lose the education necessary to safely use a firearm. According to Brooks, “In states were permits are not required, permit applications have gone down but not interest in classes.”
One of the more exciting and promising efforts allied with the passing of the legislation is the initiation of a program to provide firearms training in Utah’s high schools. “We are presently developing a pilot program so that young people can voluntarily take a firearms class in high school to get physical education credit. We want this training to be more ubiquitous,” explains Brooks. Though the idea may sound controversial to some, such classes are mandatory in Iowa. Brooks has discussed the classes with school leaders in the Hawkeye State and found them to be successful and popular. “Even if someone is against guns or doesn’t like guns, everyone needs to know how to secure a firearm; to put it in a safe place. What if you’re a babysitter and find an unsecured firearm in a home? We should be educating our youth to be prepared,” he says.
For Rep. Brooks, his work to pass the constitutional carry bill has a greater purpose. Brooks says, “We need to get our legislation back to trusting the law-abiding people. We need get it back to trusting responsible people and not have punitive measures on those that do obey the law.”