SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tens of thousands of gun owners from around the country are taking advantage of Utah's concealed firearm permits each year — often taking a required class given by instructors licensed by Utah but who live in other states.
About two-thirds of the nearly 577,000 permits Utah has issued in the last two decades have gone to residents from other states. More than 81,000 out-of-staters obtained permits from Utah in fiscal year 2014, accounting for 80 percent of the cards issued, shows a new state report issued this week.
Utah's permit is attractive to out-of-state residents because it's recognized in 35 states and allows them to travel more widely with it, said Rep. Curt Oda, a Republican lawmaker from Clearfield and a concealed-carry permit instructor.
Utah ranks alongside Arizona and Florida as being the most popular for out-of-state permit seekers not because it's easy to get one, but because of the widespread acceptance around the country, said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the state's biggest gun lobby.
The requirements are fairly simple: Anyone 21 or older who passes a criminal background check and takes a firearms course taught by an instructor certified by Utah can get the permit. Most of the 2,300 current instructors — 72 percent — don't live in Utah. Not all states allow classes to be taken from out-of-state instructors, adding another layer of simplicity for permit-seekers, Aposhian said.
Utah runs background checks on a nearly daily basis, and permits can be suspended or revoked if holders are convicted of crime that take away their eligibility, Aposhian said.
Illinois, Oregon, New York and California account for states with the most Utah-issued permits, state records show. That's likely because permits from those states aren't widely recognized, so gun owners get a second card from Utah for travel, Aposhian said. Because Utah's permit isn't recognized in those states, it's easier to get a Utah card because residents there don't have to first get a permit from their own state.
Utah is one of more than a dozen states that issue concealed-carry permits to residents of other states. Each state has its own rules for issuing the cards, and Utah's application process is not the weakest, said Allison Anderman, attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
For instance, Utah requires that people from states that recognize the permit get a concealed carry from their home state first and submit it with the Utah application. "It's not like you can get denied in your home state and get a permit in Utah," Anderman said.
Utah issues cards to people around the country even if their home state doesn't recognize the permit, putting the burden on the card holder to know what each state law allows. Washington and Wisconsin are tops for permit holders among the states where the card is recognized.
"It makes no sense to us," said Gary Sackett, board member for the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah. "It's not clear to us why we want to make it easy for people from other parts of the country when we have such a weak form of approval."
Oda said Utah has the right idea in making the process less strenuous than other states. Other states often require live-firing as part of a permit course, while Utah only requires classroom time and familiarity with the basics of a gun, he said.
"Why should proficiency be a prerequisite to that right of defending yourself?" Oda said. "Just because they happen to live across the border, doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to defend themselves as well."
Self-defense is "passive" and should not require training, Oda said.
Representatives from the Bureau of Criminal Identification presented the report to a Utah legislative committee on Wednesday. There were hardly any questions asked by lawmakers and minimal discussion. In Utah, the program is old news and hardly generates any backlash.
The total of 101,640 permits issued in the recently completed fiscal year is more than any year from 2004-2012. But it is fewer than in 2013, when nearly 134,000 permits were given out.
Applications cost $41 for Utah residents and $51 for non-residents. The permits last five years and cost $15 to renew.
During the record year of 2013, the permits brought in $2.3 million for the state. This year, however, the state lost $58,000 in administering the program. Part of that loss was caused by the cost of buying a new card-printing system, said Alice Moffat, chief of the Bureau of Criminal Identification.
Sackett doesn't understand why Utah keeps up the program, especially when it loses money.
"This advances no Utah state interest at all. There's no interest in somebody from Florida having a concealed weapons permit," Sackett said. "It simply does not make any sense for us to be in this marketplace."