Utah Senate President Lane Beattie will soon introduce a concealed weapons bill that would allow church leaders, private property owners and public school officials to bar concealed weapon permit holders from bringing weapons into their buildings.
And Beattie will find plenty of support from regular Utahns, if not from his fellow legislators.A new Deseret News poll shows that 88 percent of Utahns agree that churches should be able to keep concealed weapons out, while 89 percent believe public schools should be able to keep concealed weapons out. The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, shows majority support for banning concealed guns from more places than Beattie wants.
Beattie said Tuesday that while he had hoped he could reach agreement with Rep. Robert Killpack, R-Murray, and back Killpack's bill, it now appears that won't happen.
Killpack's concealed weapons bill, already introduced and awaiting consideration in a House committee chaired by Killpack, would allow concealed weapons to be banned only in "houses of worship" and in private buildings - which Killpack considers to be private homes and apartments.
Killpack won't agree to amend his bill to include public schools, kindergarten to 12th grade, and Beattie insists school-children must be considered in any concealed weapons bill.
Actually, Killpack is considering not running his bill at all. "It is already late (in the session) to start a bill. Leadership (like Beattie) can accelerate any bill they want. But for the rest of us, the regular process (of committee hearings and floor action), well, I have to do something (to move the bill) within a week, and I can't say now what I'll do."
A number of GOP leaders seem to wish that the concealed weapons matter would just go away.
"I favor solving a problem," says House Speaker Mel Brown, R-Union. "But is there a problem? We've not had one incident (where a permitted gun owner took a gun improperly into a school, church or other place). Some states have had concealed weapons laws a lot longer than we have and haven't had a problem (of permitees causing problems with guns in schools or other places)."
Last year, Beattie, Gov. Mike Leavitt and Brown all said before the 1997 Legislature began that something would be done on concealed weapons. But nothing was.
Leavitt has again urged lawmakers to act this session.
And in a way, they have. Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, a longtime gun rights advocate, has asked legislative general counsel Gay Taylor to opine if it violates any state laws if schools, churches, even Leavitt's own personnel office, can ban legally permitted concealed weapons from their buildings.
Leavitt last year approved a general state policy that bans all guns - permitted or not - from state property; even from state vehicles. He has exceptions for law officers and others whose jobs require the carrying of weapons.
That hasn't sat well with some state employees, and Waddoups says a state transportation employee is ready to sue over the matter if Leavitt's personnel policy isn't reversed. According to Waddoups, the man has asked the Utah Public Employees Association - the main state union - to back him in any action he might take.
Waddoups made the request of Taylor on behalf of the Executive Office, Criminal Justice and Legislature Appropriations Subcommittee, which he chairs.
If Taylor responds that Leavitt does not have the right to ban permitted concealed weapons from state buildings, Waddoups said his committee could do one of several things: propose its own legislation to address the concealed weapons issue; rescind the governor's order restricting concealed weapons from state offices; support the governor's stance despite the general counsel's opinion; or remove some money from the governor's executive office budget and hold it for the defense of any lawsuits that could be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, The Utah Shooting Sports Council, the main gun rights group embroiled in the matter, isn't sure what it will do, says council lobbyist Rob Bishop. Bishop says that, in general, the group might be able to support Killpack's bill.
"We don't have a problem with (keeping guns out of) churches, and certainly not private homes," said Bishop, a former speaker of the Utah House.
"But absolutely we will oppose" Beattie's bill if it includes the power of public school officials to ban permitted weapons from school buildings, Bishop said.
Beattie said his bill would allow properly permitted gun owners to carry weapons into school driveways and parking lots, so they could drop off or pick up their children without having to leave guns behind. But if permitees got out of their cars and went into the schools, the guns would have to be locked in the vehicles.
Leavitt and others who wanted action on concealed weapons thought the matter would quickly move through the Legislature, especially after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement in 1997 saying that houses of worship were places of sanctuary and that no weapons - permitted or not - would be appropriate in them.
The Deseret News poll shows that 89 percent of the respondents who said they are members of the LDS Church believe guns have no place in churches and that church leaders should be able to ban guns from their property.
"People need to understand that we are talking, in this matter, only about concealed weapons and those who are permitted to carry them," Beattie said. "It is already illegal for just anyone to carry a concealed weapon (unless permitted to do so), and it is certainly illegal (for non-permitted residents) to carry a gun into a school."
Beattie, R-West Bountiful, said that of the 2 million Utah residents, only 15,000 have gone "through the rigorous procedure of a criminal background check, fingerprinting and limited handgun training" and passed to get a concealed weapons permit. And of those 15,000, "I'd guess that 95 percent of the permit holders only carry their guns on rare occasions.
"There is zero evidence that we have a problem here (with the 15,000) that needs to be solved. Yet there is great public concern over the issue" and that's why he believes he needs to act.
Beattie's bill clearly has supporters in the Senate, at least among those aware of what the Senate president intends to pro-pose.
"The president is taking a careful approach," said Sen. Robert Steiner, D-Salt Lake City. "I would vote for the president's bill and agree to expand it to businesses and higher education."
Steiner has, in fact, introduced his own bill to do just that. But with Beattie running the show, Steiner knows his SB183 probably will be tucked away and hidden from view like the handguns he seeks to regulate.
Deseret News poll
Do you think citizens who have a concealed weapon permit should or should not be allowed to take handguns in the following places?
... Definitely Probably Probably Definitely
... should be should be should not should not Don't
... allowed allowed be allowed be allowed know
Churches 7% 4% 11% 77% 2%
Public or private schools 6% 3% 7% 82% 1%
Private businesses 19% 24% 18% 34% 5%
(not usually open to public)
Private businesses 18% 17% 14% 50% 2%
(usually open to public like grocery stores)
Colleges and universities 9% 7% 11% 71% 1%
Public buildings 10% 7% 14% 67% 1%
(city hall or capitol)
Copyright Deseret News, 1998
This poll of 603 Utah residents was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates Jan. 8-10, 1998. It has a margin of error of +/-4 percent.