Republican lawmakers say no ‘constitutional carry’ gun bill in 2018

Several Republican lawmakers say there’s no appetite this year to pass a so-called “constitutional carry” bill, that would allow a Utahn to carry a weapon, either concealed or in the open, without a permit.

However, it’s not for lack of trying on the part of gun rights groups.

Legislative sources tell that the NRA offered to drop their opposition to a proposed hike in fees for concealed carry permit renewals if lawmakers were to pass a “permitless carry” bill. Those same sources say the deal has zero chance of moving forward.

“The NRA wants to have a clean bill on ‘constitutional carry,'” said one lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They said they would drop opposition on the fees if we would agree to that.”

As reported earlier, the NRA is objecting to a proposed hike in the fee for a concealed carry permit renewal, saying it is unfair to CC permit holders because they would be subsidizing other operations within the Bureau of Criminal Identification, which carries out the background checks. Sen. Daniel Thatcher, who is the sponsor of SB16, says increasing costs to conduct the background checks means the BCI will run out of funding before the end of next fiscal year without the fee increase.

NRA lobbyist Brian Judy confirms his organization would consider dropping their opposition to the fee increases in exchange for the ability for gun owners to carry without the need for a permit because no permit requirement means they would not have to pay the fee. However, he’s quick to say it wasn’t a straight-up quid pro quo offer.

“There needs to be some fairness injected into the fee issue,” said Judy. “We proposed trying to package the whole issue along with permitless carry. We see those issues as connected. We believe people shouldn’t have to pay fees at all, but if fees are going up, that would be a good way to lessen the impact.”

Lawmakers say the NRA’s offer was a little more forceful than that, which is why there will be no bill this year.

“They’ve been willing to try and dictate what they will accept and threaten when they don’t get their way,” said one lawmaker when asked about their interactions with the organization. “We’re not going to roll the governor with a veto override on something like this. There’s a handful in the House, maybe three or four in the Senate who would support that bill, but not enough to get it passed.”

Currently, gun owners in Utah can carry a gun anywhere in public, as long as there is not a round in the chamber. State law requires two actions to discharge a firearm in that instance. If a gun owner wants to carry a gun under a jacket and have a round chambered, they need to get a permit. A so-called “clean constitutional carry” bill would allow gun owners to carry firearms with a chambered round without restrictions.

Lawmakers have attempted to pass that legislation previously, only to see Gov. Gary Herbert veto or pressure them to withdraw it.

Last year, Sen. Curt Bramble and Rep. Lee Perry proposed a novel way to address the idea – law-abiding citizens in Utah would be allowed to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in Utah, as long as a round was not chambered. To make that proposal more palatable to Gov. Gary Herbert, Bramble and Perry added increased domestic violence protections into the legislation.

That bill was yanked by the sponsors last year, but not because Gov. Gary Herbert was opposed, but because of more hardball tactics by the NRA.

Utah is one of the most gun-friendly states in the U.S., and “constitutional carry” is pretty much the last frontier for gun rights advocates. 

But, that’s an issue on which Gov. Gary Herbert does not seem ready to budge. So if it’s going to pass anytime soon, the NRA is going to need to build much more goodwill than they have right now on Utah’s Capitol Hill. 

One Senate Republican said bluntly they’re getting fed up with their interactions with the organization. “The NRA is acting like this because they think they can get away with it.”