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More states eye allowing concealed guns without a permit

A man carries his weapon during a 2nd Amendment gun rally at Utah's Capitol on Feb. 8, 2020.
A man carries his weapon during a 2nd Amendment gun rally at Utah’s Capitol on Feb. 8, 2020, in Salt Lake City.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Republican lawmakers in several states want to loosen gun restrictions by allowing people to carry concealed firearms without having to get a permit, continuing a trend that gun-control advocates call dangerous.

Fifteen states already allow “concealed carry” without a permit, and lawmakers in nine others have proposed allowing or expanding the practice. GOP governors are backing the changes in Utah and Tennessee. Another bill expanding permit-less carrying of guns in Montana has passed the state’s lower chamber.

Most states require people to do such things as get weapons training and undergo a background check in order to be granted a permit to carry a gun hidden by a jacket or inside a purse. Groups such as the National Rifle Assn. and state lawmakers who support gun rights argue that those requirements are ineffective and undermine 2nd Amendment protections.

The proposed changes come after gun sales hit historic levels last summer — reflected in FBI background checks — amid uncertainty and safety concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, the struggling economy and protests over racial injustice. Earlier this month, a violent mob of President Trump’s supporters, some toting weapons, stormed the U.S. Capitol.

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Against that backdrop, the efforts to loosen concealed-carry requirements are a frightening trend, said Shannon Watts, founder of the gun-control group Moms Demand Action.

“It is dangerous to allow people to carry hidden, loaded handguns possibly without a background check or any training,” she said, adding that the annual rate of aggravated assaults with a firearm has increased 71% in Alaska since the state became the first to allow concealed carry without a permit in 2003.

The National Rifle Assn. of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday with plans to regroup in Texas, citing opposition in New York.

The proposal in Utah would allow any U.S. citizen 21 and older to carry a concealed weapon without the now-required background check or weapons-training course. The bill does allow gun owners who want to carry a concealed weapon out of state to get a permit to do so after a background check and safety course.

Newly elected Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, has said he supports the idea, in contrast to his predecessor and fellow Republican Gary Herbert, who vetoed a similar bill in 2013.

Supporters of the change argue that other state laws against such things as felons having guns and anyone carrying a firearm while intoxicated are enough to ensure that guns are used safely.

“I have that right to protect myself; the Constitution says we have the right. Why are we putting [up] a barrier for law-abiding citizens?” said state Rep. Walt Brooks, the Republican lawmaker sponsoring the bill, which got an early nod of approval from a Utah House committee Friday.

As soon as Friday, the House of Representatives is expected to take up a spectacularly stupid and dangerous piece of legislation intended to undercut the right of states to determine what qualifications a person must meet before being allowed to carry a concealed firearm.

Brooks, who represents rural southern Utah, pointed to a multistate study published in 2018 by the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that found loosening concealed-carry laws didn’t lead to more homicides or violent crime. Utah does not require a permit for guns carried openly.

In Tennessee, Republican lawmakers are expected to make a new push to allow most adults 21 and older to carry firearms — concealed or openly — without a license, which currently requires a background check and training.

GOP Gov. Bill Lee backed the idea last year, though the proposal and others were put on hold amid the pandemic.

The push in Tennessee came after the GOP-dominated General Assembly relaxed the state’s handgun law in 2020 by allowing people to obtain a concealed-carry permit that didn’t require them to demonstrate the ability to fire a weapon.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has signed into law a gun-rights bill eliminating an individual’s duty to retreat before using force.

Similar bills that would allow or expand permit-less concealed carry have been introduced in Texas, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Alabama and Georgia.

In Texas, where the NRA plans to incorporate soon and where some lawmakers bring concealed handguns to work at the state Capitol, the GOP has listed the issue as one of only eight legislative priorities. The idea has failed to gain traction for years, though, and its prospects are once again uncertain.


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