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Utah sees surge in out-of-state gun permits

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 200 people apply for a concealed weapons permit in Utah each day. And about three-fourths of them don't live in the state.

New Utah Department of Public Safety data show the Beehive State is an increasingly popular place for people across the country to obtain a license to holster a gun.

Out-of-state permits issued in fiscal 2010 numbered 44,043 compared with 17,315 to residents. Both numbers reflect change from the previous year: Out-of-state permits are up; in-state permits down. Overall, 48 percent of the 254,000 currently valid Utah permits belong to nonresidents.

Administrators with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the agency that oversees the program, are hard-pressed to explain the surge.

"We don't ask and they don't tell," Lt. Douglas Anderson, BCI manager, said after a Wednesday meeting of the Legislature's Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

State lawmakers on the committee had numerous questions about the numbers, particularly why Utah issues so many non-resident permits and just how much that costs the state each year. They also expressed concern about the lag time for discovering someone outside Utah has violated terms of the license.

"We seem to be happy that we got 72 percent of our applicants from out of state," said Rep. Lorie Fowlke, R-Orem. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

Some reasons for the increase mentioned in the meeting include the fact that 32 other states recognize Utah permits (Nevada and New Mexico recently removed themselves from that list) and the inexpensive application fee.

"Utah's permit is widely accepted by more states than any other permit," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman. "Is that a good thing? Anytime you have the opportunity to perpetuate freedom and liberty for our citizens, yes, it is a good thing."

Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, asked if Utah offers permits for other activities that occur outside the state.

"I'm not aware of any," Anderson replied.

A concealed weapons permit costs $65.25 for residents and non-residents and is good for five years. Applicants must provide government-issued identification and fingerprints, pass a background check and complete a BCI-certified training course that may or may not include actually firing a gun. Renewal costs $10. Non-residents don't need come to Utah because there are BCI-certified instructors in other states, and the application forms may be mailed.

"It's not exactly missionary work," said Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield. "Why should we be doing that for other states?"

BCI took in $2.4 million selling permits in fiscal 2010 and, after administrative expenses, netted $720,000. Anderson said the bureau wants to upgrade its computer systems, start an online renewal process and hire at least two workers to handle a projected sales increase.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said he wasn't satisfied with the answers he received during the meeting. Romero questioned whether in a time of tight budgets Utah should be hiring employees to meet demands for gun permits coming largely from outside the state.

"I think we should be in the business of providing service to Utah residents," he said.

Utah permit holders are also more scrutinized than those in other states. BCI has the ability to monitor Utahns for violations (felony crimes, DUI, domestic violence, drug possession) that could get their permits revoked on a daily basis. But it can't catch up to out-of-state violators for three months, Anderson said.

Romero said he finds that "really inadequate."

"I think (daily monitoring) should be the expectation and our obligation since it is our concealed weapons permit," he said.

Anderson conceded the current out-of-state monitoring "does need work" to make it as intense as the in-state system.

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said he plans to run legislation next January requiring out-of-state applicants to obtain a permit in their home states first. Oda said he also wants to raise the renewal fee by $5, while lowering the application fee by the same amount.

Romero said depending on how Oda's bills shake out, he would consider proposing to ban permit sales to non-Utahns altogether.