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Open arms for weapons at Utah State Capitol

New security plan permits guns with some exceptions

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A security plan approved Friday won't stop visitors from carrying concealed weapons or open, unloaded firearms into the state Capitol — except when the building is placed on the highest level of security and closed to all visitors.

That means that even under a medium, or level two, security alert — in place during the 2002 Winter Games — anyone legally entitled to carry a weapon will be allowed to bring it into the Capitol.

"It's the law, but the person may be followed," said David Hart, executive director of the Capitol Preservation Board.

Hart spoke specifically of someone carrying an open but unloaded weapon, such as a revolver in a belt holster. As long as that person is not a felon and is observing all other laws, the weapon would be permitted.

Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, who chaired Friday's board meeting, found it interesting when told that even under the highest level of security, a gun-toting stranger would be granted access.

"We'd say, hey, guy, come on in?" Walker asked rhetorically. "You'd say, oh, let's have a party?"

Lt. Jim Keith of the Utah Highway Patrol's Dignitary Protection Bureau did not attend the meeting, but clarified later that any nonemployee with a gun, including a concealed weapons permit holder, could be denied access if the Capitol is closed under the highest level of security.

But if the Capitol is open to visitors, he said, concealed weapons will be allowed. Only a change in state law can alter that.

"If someone has a concealed weapons permit and a legitimate license for it, they have a right to carry it," Keith said.

The Preservation Board met specifically to approve a rule establishing a multilevel security plan for use at the Capitol during the 2002 legislative session, the Winter Games and beyond.

The plan allows Keith to invoke one of three different levels of security for the Capitol campus at any given time, although board members could later overrule his decision with a majority vote.

The unanimous vote to approve the rule was taken Friday because state lawmakers will begin meeting on the hill Tuesday and the board wanted Keith to have full authority to take security measures as needed.

The plan outlines three levels of security:

Level one is normal operating procedure and metal detectors will not be used. Visitors may be asked to register at a security desk before entering the building. Keith said lawmakers will begin their work Tuesday with level-one security in effect.

Level two requires all visitors to register and pass through magnetometers. State employees and officials could use a separate entrance by presenting their identification cards and would not necessarily be required to go through a metal detector. Anyone entering the building would be subject to bag searches.

In a level-three alert, state employees and officials also would be required to walk through magnetometers. Every bag would be searched. And, according to Keith, the campus essentially could be shut down and closed to visitors.

Keith said any upgrade from level one to level two during the legislative session "will be done based on intelligence" information concerning possible threats. "As for right now, during the legislative session, the building is open to the public," he said.

A level-two security alert will be in place Feb. 8-24, during the Olympics and possibly into March while the Paralympics are held, Keith said.

E-mail: zman@desnews.com