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Herbert vetoes controversial gun carry bill

‘We’re not the wild and woolly West,’ governor says

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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert Friday vetoed the controversial "constitutional carry" bill that would allow a concealed firearm to be carried without a permit.

“We have a system in place in Utah that serves us very well,” Herbert said. “I just decided it was not good policy to change, and so I vetoed the bill.”

The bill passed both the House and Senate with a slim, two-thirds majority, enough to over-ride the veto if lawmakers choose to do so.

Herbert said his decision was supported by much of the law enforcement community, which encouraged him to veto the bill.

But the governor said that while he, too, was passionate about Second Amendment rights, Utah needs gun policy that "sends a message that we have a quality of life that is sophisticated, and that we're not the wild and woolly West."

Ultimately, he stressed that the current law sufficiently meets that need.

“As I said before, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," Herbert said.

For the Legislature to convene in an override session, the Utah Constitution requires that a poll be taken of both the House and the Senate, with two-thirds of all members consenting.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said that it was too soon Friday to know whether there would be enough votes for a special override session.

"It's just so early right now, it's hard to make a determination," she said.

Lockhart was not surprised by the governor's decision and said the Legislature will take its time to decide whether to attempt an override.

"I'm going to encourage all members to be very thoughtful and very methodical with their vote," Lockhart said. "It's a very sensitive and a very serious issue."

The poll will likely be conducted after April 3, which is the last day for the governor to take action on bills. If two-thirds of legislators want to hold an override session, they must convene before May 13.

Senate sponsor Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said he is not optimistic that an override session will happen.

"We had a veto proof majority from both houses, but I'm afraid some of those votes will fade away under the pressure of the governor," Christensen said.

Herbert said it is the prerogative of the Legislature to try to override his veto.

“We’ll see what happens,” the governor said. “They have a role to play, I have a role to play, and I played my role today when I vetoed this bill.”

He said he was not offended by those in his own party who disagree with his decision, but he is concerned about the divisive nature of the issue.

"We have part of our public that likes the bill and part that doesn't," Herbert said. "I don't like the fact that it divides our state."

Herbert's office received hundreds of calls both for and against the bill throughout the final weeks of the session, a spokesman for the governor said.

During the two weeks before the bill passed both houses, the governor's office received 647 calls in support of the bill and only 98 calls against it. But once the bill passed the Senate the following week, the governor received 323 calls in favor of the bill and 973 calls against it.

The governor also found support for a veto from the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, the Most Rev. John C. Wester, who said he was being vocal about the issue because it "affects the sanctity of human life."

"I'm very grateful to the governor, who acted responsibly and has shown great prudence," Bishop Wester said Friday. "I think his decision represents the majority of Utahns who feel that HB76 is a threat to public safety."

The governor has faced opposition from gun rights activists, who say that the bill is misunderstood.

Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council and Utah's chief gun lobbyist, said the council was disappointed with the veto, which they felt "was a small legislative step, but a bigger step toward self defense in the state."

"There are at times public misconceptions or misinterpretations about legislation," Aposhian said. "I think that if the public fully understood that this was a very, very tiny step from what we can do right now, their support would be swayed."

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said that it's not just the public who misunderstands the bill, but the governor and his staff, as well.

Oda said the bill simply allows those who can legally carry a gun to put a jacket on over their firearm.

"It's not gun control, it's jacket control," Oda said. "He's creating inadvertent criminals of law abiding citizens."

Oda said the bill had overwhelming support from pro-gun organizations like the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners of America, and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

E-mail: mmellor@deseretnews.com