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Flaws found in gun classes

Some receive permits without real training

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Some concealed-weapons carriers in Utah may not know how to properly handle their guns due to lax instruction in state-required training classes.

Private instructors are signing applications for people who do minimal or no course work in a program ran by the Department of Public Safety's Bureau of Criminal Identification, according to a Legislative Auditor General report released Friday.

The legislative auditor examined the Utah State Concealed Carry Weapon Program at the request of the Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. One of the review's main purposes was to determine the cost for processing concealed-firearms permits and instructor certifications. In so doing, auditors found some major oversight problems.

In one three-hour course, auditors observed prospective permit holders arriving late to class, coming and going and sleeping. Despite the loose control, the teacher signed all the applications, the report said. A review of 42 instructors' files found nearly half did not contain a course curriculum outline, a violation of state law.

The report noted that some instructors don't follow the BCI-approved curriculum "or in fact may not teach anything at all."

Furthermore, some instructors teaching weapons-handling classes no longer have valid permits themselves. BCI does not check instructors beyond the initial certification nor does it evaluate their classrooms.

BCI manager Bruce Brown acknowledges the program has deficiencies. He attributed them to a lack of funding and staff as spelled out in the report. BCI has sent undercover agents into some classes. But Brown said there are too many instructors and too few agents to reach them all.

The auditor's report recommends the Legislature give the program additional money and raise the fees to meet operating costs.

New and renewed permits and instructor certification fees brought in $307,400 last year, while processing them cost an estimated $451,800, according to the report.

Total fees range from $107 to $200, depending on the costs for weapons-handling classes, fingerprinting, shooting range time and ammunition. The base fee is $59-$35 for a state background check and $24 for an FBI background check.

The number of permits issued has grown from 621 in 1994 to approximately 7,800 last year. Officials expect the number to level off at about 7,500 to 8,000 annually. The surge began in 1995 after concealed-weapons laws were relaxed. About 32,000 Utahns have current permits.

The report suggests the state create a standardized test on which applicants must show an understanding of state laws, use of lethal force and firearms handling and safety.

W. Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Self-Defense Instructors Network, said a written exam probably isn't the answer. About 25 percent of Utah's estimated 400 certified instructors belong to the group.

"People will basically teach to the test. They'll teach (students) to get the answers right," he said. "I say let's police the instructors."

Brown doesn't know how valuable a test would be, but he said it's an idea BCI will look at. The benefit, he said, would be that applicants would "at least at that one point" have to demonstrate some understanding of the law.

"I enjoy teaching the classes, but I don't see training as the end-all, be-all, do-all for safety," Aposhian said, adding there is "no clear pattern of problems" with accidental shootings or firearms misuse in states that don't require concealed-weapons courses.

Aposhian has a simple solution for inadequate teachers. "Let's get rid of them," he said. "We don't want any more government infringement, but we certainly need to obey the rules we agreed to."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com