Lawmakers and NRA at loggerheads over proposed fee hike for concealed carry permits

A proposal to increase fees for concealed carry permits in Utah is running into stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association.

SB16, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, raises the fees for renewing a concealed carry permit from $15 to $24.75, which is how much it currently costs for a new permit. 

According to the Department of Public Safety, the number of new applications is trending downward, while renewals are increasing. Processing renewals and initial permit applications are about the same workload, but renewals cost less, which will they say will eventually lead to their costs outpacing the fees.

“Most people don’t think about the budgeting process, but user fees are a big part of that,” says Thatcher. “Think about a fishing license or a hunting license. If you don’t do either of those activities, do you, as a taxpayer, want to subsidize those who do? I’d rather everybody pay their fair share.”

But Brian Judy, a lobbyist for the NRA, says the increase simply isn’t needed because the Bureau of Criminal Identification, who processes the concealed carry permits, is already running a surplus in the restricted account that the permit fees go into. 

“Concealed carry permit applicants are already paying excessive fees, and subsidizing the rest of BCI’s functions,” says Judy.

That’s partially true. BCI did have an $800,000 surplus in the restricted account for permit applications at the beginning of FY 2018. However, the $10 price difference for renewals is quickly draining the surplus in that account. A DPS spokesperson says they anticipate using the entire surplus this year and will possibly go into the red by the end of the fiscal year.

The NRA also takes issue with a $20 fee for a fingerprint background check. They claim that since the money is not put into a restricted account, it is then used to subsidize other areas of BCI. This is what gives credence to the idea that concealed carry permit applicants are paying for the core functions of BCI, and are unduly burdened with extra fees.

According to a fact sheet provided by DPS, it is true that the fingerprint background fee does help other sections of BCI maintain databases that help provide information for the background screenings. But, the $20 fingerprint fee is assessed on any applicant requiring a background check, not just those seeking a concealed carry permit. Doctors and teachers, for instance, also must pay that fee.

Additionally, state law specifically allows BCI to use those funds to “cover the costs incurred in providing the information.” 

Furthermore, concealed carry permit applicants were not charged the $20 fee before last August due to an oversight by BCI.

Judy tells that the NRA has always said that the fees collected for the concealed carry permits should cover the cost of the application process and not be used for any other purpose.

Thatcher says the cost of processing the applications is going up, and the current fees are not enough to cover the increased demand. He claims when he pointed out that funding discrepancy to Judy, he was dismissive.

“This is a lobbyist who told me flat out that he doesn’t care if other taxpayers have to subsidize this, just so long as concealed carry applicants don’t have to pay more,” said Thatcher.

Judy had a terse response to Thatcher’s assertion: “Fake news!”

Thatcher also alleges Judy made an election year related threat over the increased fees.

“He said, ‘You know, Senator, you really don’t want to be on the wrong side of our PR machine in an election year,'” says Thatcher. “I support the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms. But, the fact of the matter is, the NRA is acting like this because they think they can get away with it.”

Judy pushed back on Thatcher’s accusations in no uncertain terms.

“I have been an NRA lobbyist for 32 years. I can tell you, unequivocally, that I have never threatened an elected official with political consequences in the context of legislative dealings,” said Judy.

Thatcher was able to produce at least one corroborating witness who backed up his version of the story.

Even though SB16 was advanced by a Senate committee last week, legislative sources tell that it is unlikely to pass the House, and possibly won’t pass the Senate, because of opposition from the NRA.