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Yak & Pack

A Utah gun lobby hopes to fire up journalists.



Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, estimates that 70 percent of Utah lawmakers now have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That is thanks, in part, to free concealed-carry-permit classes offered to lawmakers by the Utah gun lobby.

The free class offer was made to schoolteachers, resulting in a few teachers who carry weapons inside special hollowed-out file folders according to permit instructors. On May 31, the free offer was extended to journalists, a handful of whom showed up at the Lee Kay Hunter Education Center on 6000 W. 2100 South to receive instruction from Oda—a certified concealed carry trainer—and Clark Aposhian, chairman of one of Utah’s main gun-rights lobbying organizations, the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

Following the daylong classroom session, assembled reporters were told they now qualified for a Utah concealed weapon permit, assuming they could pass a background check and paid a $65.25 state application fee. There was no test. No actual shooting was required. The offer for journalists to shoot guns at the firing range under the supervision of Oda was just icing on the cake.

Recognized by more than 30 states, the Utah concealed weapons permit is among the most popular in the country. Proposals floated in the 2009 legislative session, to scale back the concealed carry program by increasing fees or limiting the permit to Utah residents, died. So did a bill from Oda that would have increased supervision of out-of-state concealed permit instructors following criticism that some were rubber-stamping applications.

Two gun-rights bills passed, including a law that Oda co-sponsored allowing Utahns to keep loaded guns in their car on private property. A second bill that passed allows carrying a loaded gun in a car without a concealed-weapons permit.

But the gun-rights lobby isn’t satisfied yet.

During the concealed carry training for journalists, Aposhian and Oda sprinkled in pitches for laws they’d like changed. They said that when Utah’s modern concealed-carry law was passed—allowing anyone of “good moral character” to apply—the intention was the permit should be good for any weapon, not just guns. But because of varying interpretations by law enforcement, the gun lobby’s agenda for the 2010 legislative session includes making clear that those with concealed carry permits can walk around with anything from knives to nunchucks.

It doesn’t make much sense, Aposhian pointed out, to allow guns but not to allow presumably less lethal weapons, like knives.

Oda made a pitch in opposition to what he said were coming national regulations that would require ammunition manufactures to treat shells so they could be traced to the gun that fired the bullet. Such regulations are being touted as a way to catch criminals, but the cost of the new technology will put ammunition out of reach of the casual sportsman, he said.

Besides, Oda said, criminals could get around the tracing technology simply by using a revolver that retains spent shells.It was one of many supposed gun-safety regulations that “are worse than doing nothing,” Aposhian said.

Aposhian recently visited with Salt Lake County officials to comb through the county’s gun regulations. He advised them that most should be scrapped since the state’s permissive gun laws supersede local government regulations.

Utah’s concealed-carry permit allows a permit holder to take a gun almost anywhere, assembled journalists were told. One exception is inside some secured facilities, like police stations or courts. Aposhian and Oda interpret the law to mean such facilities must provide storage areas for visitors’ guns—something that Utah courts don’t always do.

The courts are “out of compliance,” Aposhian said. But the gun-rights lobby is in a pickle since any lawsuit would be heard by the very judges alleged to be violating the law. Instead, gun-rights advocates will try to make Utah courts see things their way and bring a federal lawsuit if necessary.

The concealed-carry class for journalists covered basic familiarity with a handgun and was heavy on gun safety. Attendees were told where in Utah they could legally carry a gun with their newly minted concealed carry permits—a list that included elementary schools—and scenarios in which they could likely shoot without getting charged with a crime.

More classes for journalists are planned after the 2010 legislative session.