Utah lawmakers advance fee hikes on gun permits, background checks

The Utah Legislature’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee gave approval this week to a measure that would drive up renewal costs for concealed firearms permits and background checks.

Under the 25-page proposal, which adjusts a wide variety of public safety fees, the renewal fees for CFP permits would move from $15 to $24.75 for in-state residents, the same price as a new applicant. In addition, the $7.50 Brady fee assessed on firearms transfers would jump to $10.

State Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said the increase has been three years in the making and current revenue is not sufficient to cover program costs.

“I would really like to get this bill passed so that we can recover the tax dollars that are currently subsidizing what should be covered by fees,” Thatcher told the committee Wednesday.

Utah has seen a staggering increase in the numbers of CFPs in circulation in the past decade. Statistics by the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification show in 2006 there were 13,139 applications, whereas in 2016 there were 95,093.

Brian Judy, the National Rifle Association’s lobbyist in Utah, addressed the planned increase in CFP renewal fees, questioning why the move was needed when the state’s concealed permit fund has a $800,000 surplus. He pointed out that BCI increased the cost of firearms permits just last month, tacking on an extra $20 fee to process fingerprints through a state system.

On the Brady fee, Judy argued it is not something gun buyers asked for, saying “if it is being pushed by society at large, it should be funded by society at large. When the National Instant Check System was implemented, one of the policies was that there should be no fee.”

Clark Aposhian, president of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, told lawmakers he didn’t object to a needed increase to cover the costs of the permit system, but he, like Judy, questioned the need.

Joseph Brown, the finance director for DPS, explained that the current $800,000 surplus is in a restricted account that cannot be spent unless it is appropriated by the legislature, and he expects it to be drained in coming years.

Brown explained that, while the agency collected more revenue on permits than it took to run the program in 2015 and 2016 — which helped generate the surplus — current figures are flat and it is expected that moving forward it would cost more to issue permits than the state is collecting due to a declining number of applicants.

“It’s clear here that the fees are not covering the cost of the program,” Brown said, pointing out that on both new permit applicants and renewals, the same background vetting has to occur while the fees currently set for the latter are less.

Concerning the proposed Brady check fee bump, Brown noted that the growing pool of concealed carry permit holders is exempt from the check requirements, leading to a smaller segment of gun buyers paying the fee.

“Because the number of CFP holders have increased, we are doing more work with the same amount of money or less money,” Brown said.

As for Aposhain’s group, they feel that should the fee hike pass, it would set the stage for long stymied permitless carry legislation to be more popular.

“Our proposed Commonsense Carry legislation would make permits optional,” notes the group in an alert. “An optional permit system would put an automatic check valve on increasing fees. If the state decides to increase fees beyond what is reasonable or to use the fees as a piggy bank, gun owners can simply forgo permits.”

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