The state of Utah, one of Idaho’s neighbors to the south, has seen a steady rise in concealed weapons permits over the past few years that highlight some differences in how the states handle letting citizens carry firearms.
A key difference between Idaho and Utah is portability—people who hold Utah’s concealed weapons can use those permits to legally carry a gun in 32 states across the country, including Idaho. Idaho’s permit is good in just 26 states, according to the National Rifle Association (NRA). Idaho also recognizes a concealed weapon permit issued by any state in the U.S.
“Utah is very aggressive… at getting more and more states to honor their permits,” said Mike Wirth, who teaches handgun classes in Parma and Nampa with A & M Shooting Academy. Wirth is one of the more than 30 certified instructors in Idaho who can teach a half-day class required to apply for Utah’s permit.
“It’s just a way so that if people travel a lot or go on a road trip, they can legally carry their concealed firearm across state lines,” Wirth said about Utah’s permit. He said his class doesn’t include shooting a gun.
People don’t need to be a Utah resident or go to Utah to get a Utah concealed weapons permit. More than 40 states, from Alaska to Florida, have Utah-certified firearm instructors. Demand has risen for Utah’s permits during the last few years. Utah issued 246,831 valid concealed carry permits as of the end of June. That number increased almost 70,000 from June 2009. The Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI), which issues Utah’s concealed carry permits, doesn’t publish statistics of how many permits are given to people in Idaho or other states.
“From 2006 to the present, you see a very steep line, with more and more every year,” Wirth said.
Jason Chapman, the firearms section supervisor for the BCI, said he didn’t know why more applications are coming into his office. “No, we don’t ask on the applications,” he said.
Wirth said perceptions of national politics could be a reason for the uptick. “People are concerned that, with the current political climate in Washington and the country, it may or may not be available in the future,” he said. “I think that’s driving a lot of it.” Wirth also said more people are realizing that it’s legal and OK to carry a firearm for self-protection.
Statewide statistics for concealed weapon permits aren’t readily available in Idaho, since county sheriffs issue permits, not a state agency. Idaho applicants also pay varying costs for their permits. The state charges $20 for the permit, but counties can add additional fees for processing and background checks. In Kootenai, Canyon, Ada, and Twin Falls counties, people will pay between $50 and $65 for a five-year permit.
That price is comparable with Utah’s five-year permit, which is $65.25. Chapman said the state isn’t profiting from the nationwide interest in its permits. “It helps us pay to process the applications for the permits,” he said. “It doesn’t go to the general fund.” Close to half of Utah's application fee goes to the FBI to process applicants' fingerprints. The rest, which now totals more than $1 million a year, goes to the BCI.
While Utah’s permit is legal in more places, it also can be difficult to get for people who run afoul of the law. In Idaho, being found guilty of most violent crimes and firearms crimes or being sentenced to a year in prison makes someone unable to get a permit. Utah has a wider range of crimes that disqualify concealed permit seekers, including any alcohol offenses and crimes of moral turpitude, such as bribery, fraud, or issuing bad checks.
Idaho also lacks a standard educational component for getting a permit. Utah’s requirements for classes taught by instructors such as Wirth doesn’t include firing a gun, but rather general weapons safety and background on gun laws. Idaho requires applicants to finish a firearms safety or training class and recommends courses taught by NRA-certified teachers, but doesn’t have a set curriculum like Utah.
Not all states are as open as Idaho and Utah to concealed weapons permits. Two states, Illinois and Wisconsin, don’t allow citizens to carry concealed weapons. Oregon doesn’t recognize permits from other states.
Wirth said he thinks the popularity of Utah’s permits across the country could lead to a national reciprocity agreement among states to recognize permits much like driver’s licenses, but it remains to be seen if that idea will gain support in Congress or at state legislatures across the country.