Concealed gun permits on the rise in Utah

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    By DEREK FAY

    In today’s less-than-friendly society, most people try to protect themselves any way they can. For Paula Murdoch, a 40-year-old single mother from Lindon, protection comes in the form of a .357-caliber Magnum revolver.

    “It makes me feel a little bit safer, just because I have a means to protect myself,” Murdoch said.

    In the last two years, the Utah Department of Public Safety has issued more than 15,000 concealed firearm permits, which allow people to legally carry a concealed handgun. In May 1995 there were around 1,400 people in the state that had permits. Today there are more than 17,000 state-wide said Todd Peterson, the Firearms Section Supervisor at the Utah Bureau of Criminal Investigations.

    Murdoch, who said she takes her handgun wherever she goes, including the grocery store, is one of over 2,300 people in Utah County who have concealed firearm permits.

    Peterson said the large increase in permits in the last two years is mainly due to state legislation passed in May 1995, changing the criteria for receiving a concealed firearm permit. Prior to the legislation, a person applying for a permit had to show a reason for needing to carry a handgun.

    Now, a person may apply for and receive a permit without stating why he or she wants one.

    Some people who apply for permits have a background in gun handling, others have no experience with guns at all, Peterson said.

    However, applicants must pass an extensive background and fingerprint check through the Bureau of Criminal Investigations. The application also requires a person to complete a firearms familiarity and safety course taught by a state-approved instructor, and provide two letters of character reference.

    Anti-gun violence groups worry about the impact of allowing gun permits in society.

    “What I disagree with, is the notion that guns make us safer,” said Robin Terry, spokesperson for Handgun Control, Inc., a gun-control lobbying organization based in Washington D.C.

    “The problem with the background check is they can screen for criminal records but they can’t screen for bad tempers. All of us can think of somebody we know who has a terrible temper and shouldn’t have a gun at arm’s length at all times, but doesn’t have a criminal record,” Terry said.

    Others believe gun permits are a legitimate way to protect yourself and your family.

    “The people (seeking permits) are average citizens on the street who are concerned about their safety in today’s world. They are not people who are going to be carrying guns all the time, but if they have the option, they can,” said Sgt. Lee Upchurch, of the Provo Police Department.

    Upchurch said he has taught gun-safety classes to more than 500 people desiring permits.

    “A lot of people have told me if they go out for a ride with their wives up in the canyons, or go camping with the family, or just feel the need, they want to have that option. The option to protect themselves and their families,” Upchurch said.

    Upchurch said his class teaches everything from gun safety to the legal ramifications of drawing your firearm.

    “I wish everybody who has a firearm could go to the class because it makes a responsible person out of a gun owner,” Upchurch said.

    Murdoch took a gun-safety course, and said she gained respect for the power of her weapon and its ability to take a life. She also said she takes special measures to teach her children how to be safe around a handgun.

    “Before I went through the course I thought if anybody makes me mad, I’ll just pull out my gun. After the course you are more leery about pulling your weapon out … death is not just something you want to inflict on anybody, including the bad people,” Murdoch said.

    Murdoch said she feels having a gun will help her if she encounters a situation in which she needs to protect her life, or the lives of other people.

    “I’m small, so I couldn’t fight anybody off,” Murdoch said.

    Many people apply for concealed firearm permits simply because the permits protect them legally and make transporting their guns more convenient.

    Scott Elsmore, 24, said he applied for a permit because he wanted the convenience of being able to legally take his firearms where he wants.

    “What if you don’t have a permit, but you want to drive to the gun range with a gun in your car? A lot of people just get (permits) because it’s more convenient than getting pulled over and thinking, oh no what do I do, I’ve got a loaded gun in my car,” Elsmore said.

    Peterson said he had talked to a lot of people who want to have a permit so they can carry guns while traveling or hunting.

    Utah concealed firearm permits last for two years. A person carrying a permit may take a firearm everywhere except federal property, such as a courthouse or an airport.

    As of June 30, 1997 there were 17,503 concealed firearm permits in Utah. The Wasatch front accounted for 13,161 of them.

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