Utah sees big surge in gun permits
By Bob Bernick Jr.
Deseret Morning News
Multiple slayings where the victims are shot down by a crazed gunman, like Utah's Trolley Square killings in February or the massacre at Virginia Tech University on Monday, often result in an upsurge in concealed-weapons permits, Utah's leading lawmaker on the issue says.
But at least so far, even well-armed, well-trained citizens with guns have not stopped a serious attack by a gunman.
"We don't know what would have happened in Virginia" if a student or a professor had had a concealed weapon, said state Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, a longtime concealed-weapons instructor and carrier. "But we know exactly what happens when no one does â€" 32 dead."
The Virginia Tech campus was a gun-free zone. But that didn't stop Monday's slaughter, Oda said.
Likewise, the continued arguments over whether public colleges and universities in Utah should ban all guns makes little sense, said Oda, president of Utah's concealed-weapons instructor organization.
At Trolley Square, an off-duty policeman, who was carrying his gun, intervened and likely saved lives â€" exchanging gun fire with the killer until Salt Lake City police arrived and the man was shot to death.
But police never got close to the Virginia Tech killer â€" he shot himself before police engaged him. Several students were shot by the killer as they lined up to jump from a third-floor classroom window trying to escape. Who knows what might have happened if a student had had a legally permitted concealed weapon and the training that goes with it, Oda added.
Mass-killings aside, the number of adults applying for a Utah concealed-weapons permit has surged over the past two years, nearly doubling in number to 16,138 from September 2005 to September 2006, Department of Public Safety statistics show. That compares to just 8,147 in 2004. And many of those applying for Utah concealed weapons permits are from out-of-state.
Overall, there are 80,235 concealed-weapon permit holders sanctioned by Utah state officials today, compared to just 44,173 in 2001.
Oda said, "There was a significant jump (in the number of permit-seekers) after the Trolley shootings" â€" where five people were shot dead before the young gunman was killed.
But Preston Raban, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety, said that Bureau of Criminal Identification officials â€" who by law handle Utah's concealed-weapon permits â€" say the bureau is so far behind in processing the permit applications that they can't say at this point if there was a significant increase following Trolley Square.
Utah's concealed weapons process is so popular in part because the state's $59 original permit fee and the $10 renewal are a good buy. And because Utah's concealed weapons permit system "is one of the best in the nation," Oda said. BCI officials guess Utah could see 30,000 concealed weapons permit applications in 2007.
Utah's relatively cheap fees â€" some states charge hundreds of dollars for a concealed weapons permit â€" and extensive training/gun safety requirements â€" have resulted in 30 other states accepting a Utah concealed weapons permit.
That means a Utah permit holder can more easily travel through the country without fear of violating a state's concealed weapons permit laws â€" those states accept the Utah permit as they would a permit issued by their own state public safety officials.
DPS officials say that they are unable to meet the legal requirement of processing and approving or denying a permit in 60 days â€" the backlog is too great. Worse, they say, the $59 fee is not paying the cost of conducting an extensive background check on each permit applicant and verifying his concealed weapons training.
Oda said lawmakers were able in the 2007 Legislature to at least get the fees generated by the permittees to be dedicated to a BCI account. Before, BCI was getting only $88,000 to run its concealed weapons program, when costs were hitting $833,000 last year. Even if DPS officials were getting all of those fee revenues â€" $650,000 last year â€" that still would have been nearly $200,000 short of the real cost of managing the program.
"But (BCI) still can't break down those costs to us," said Oda, who doesn't want a wholesale increase in concealed weapon permit fees. He said gun rights/self- defense advocates are willing to pay higher fees, if it can be proved what the real costs of administrating the program are.
"If (the fees) are inadequate, I'd be more willing to then raise out-of-state fees some and keep the in-state resident fees the same â€" we do that with hunting and many other fees," said Oda. "It makes (a fee hike) much more palatable to protect the Utah applicants first."
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