SALT LAKE CITY — Gun enthusiasts are trying to pack a legislative committee meeting Thursday to protest a recent fee increase for concealed firearms permits in Utah.
The Utah Shooting Sports Council and National Rifle Association are mobilizing supporters to speak against the $20 increase at the Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting at the state Capitol. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in Room 445.
The groups contend the state circumvented the Legislature to raise the cost.
"I don't think this Legislature nor the people of Utah expect the bureaucracy to do an end run around their Legislature and their elected representatives," said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the shooting sports council.
The group, he said, doesn't oppose a fee increase, but the state hasn't justified $20 or the process for raising it.
The change increased the concealed carry application fee to $57 for Utah residents and $67 for nonresidents, including $12 for an FBI background check. The Utah Department of Public Safety's Bureau of Criminal Identification processes the applications.
But DPS spokeswoman Marissa Cote said the bureau has not raised the concealed carry permit fee. Rather, she said it's following a law the Utah Legislature passed in 2015 allowing it to charge $20 for a fingerprint background check through the Western Identification Network.
For years, teachers, attorneys, real estate agents and others who require a background check for their professional licenses have paid the $20 fee, Cote said. They have essentially subsidized the automated fingerprint identification system program for conceal carry applicants, 70 percent of whom live out of state, she said. Utah's permit is recognized in 38 states.
Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires said the agency wants to be consistent for all those in the state who need a background check.
Aposhian said there are conflicting laws on administering the fee and that the state doesn't have the authority to unilaterally impose the fee.
He said the shooting sports council and the NRA met with public safety officials, legislators and others but were unable to work anything out, leading to a complaint being filed with the Administrative Rules Review Committee.
"The NRA rejects this back-door, unauthorized increase to the permit fees,” said Catherine Mortensen, NRA spokeswoman. "If a moderate fee is justified, it must be approved by state lawmakers. We need this protection to ensure state bureaucrats don’t once again raise permit fees to fund unrelated government programs."
Squires said the public safety department had the Utah Attorney General's Office review the new fee to make sure it wasn't violating any laws.
The $20 fingerprint background check fee doesn't apply to people renewing their concealed gun permit, but only to first-time applicants.
Aposhian said the issue could be avoided if Utah would pass a law making it legal to carry a concealed gun without a permit. Gov. Gary Herbert has vetoed such legislation in the past.