SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Never shot a gun? Never been to Utah? Got a “combat mindset”?
If yes to the above, you could qualify for a concealed gun permit from Utah, which is seeing record demand for permits from people all across the United States who never been to the state and have no intention of ever going.
Bedrock conservatism is enjoying a surge with the rise of the Tea Party movement, which advocates small government, individual rights and has made a strong showing in Utah. The debate may become only hotter after a Monday U.S. Supreme Court ruling extended gun rights to all cities and states.
Spurred by fears that U.S. President Barack Obama will add gun control to his already crowded domestic agenda, denizens of the once-wild West and other Americans are snapping up firearm permits. Some 90 million people in the United States have an estimated 200 million guns.
Utah makes it easy, and thousands have enrolled in classes promoting its concealed weapons license to people from other states, many of whom have never been to Utah and never intend to go there.
Salmon, Idaho resident Bruce Smith just took an Idaho-based Utah permit course that would let him carry in Idaho, Utah and 31 other states. Course provider Ericsson Investigations on its Web site promises to teach laws, gun safety and “the combat ‘mind set’”.
“I’d hate to be without backup,” Smith said. The course did not include shooting a gun but did show how to load one.
A five-year permit good in 33 states has flooded Utah with applications, with the number rising to 74,000 last year. The fee is $65.25. Applicants must also clear a background check, be 21, and take a course.
Today, more out-of-state residents have Utah licenses than state residents, and out-of-state instructors outnumber those from Utah.
Utah’s program alarms gun control groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“It’s a state where they don’t seem to care about the consequences that may arise from some of the permits they’re issuing,” said spokesman Peter Hamm.
Texas and other gun-friendly states require gun permit classes to be based in their state, which Utah does not. Utah’s licenses are valid in more states than most, too. Idaho permits are valid in only four other states -- one eighth the number with which Utah has agreements.
Not all states are happy with Utah’s plan. Western neighbors New Mexico and Nevada in recent months have revoked recognition of Utah’s licenses because it doesn’t oblige applicants to train with a handgun or even fire one.
With the state poised to become the de facto national supplier of such permits, officials with the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification say they are overwhelmed.
“The only people making money off it are the instructors,” said Lt. Doug Anderson, manager of the concealed firearms program.
More Americans than ever believe they need to carry a concealed weapon, and the sentiment is widespread in Western states, where historic settlement saw justice dispensed at the end of a gun barrel.
The pattern strengthened when Obama was elected president. Pro-gun activists emphasized that Obama was from Illinois, one of two states that forbid carrying concealed weapons.
“With the change in administration from Bush to Obama, people became concerned there would be additional gun-control legislation,” said Idaho-based firearms instructor John Kie. “That hasn’t played out but the fear is there.”
Concealed-carry permits in states like Colorado, Montana, Idaho and Texas are jumping.
“Obama and all of them are just trying to take away our rights,” said Salmon Mayor John Miller, a self-described gun activist. “I believe in guns. Idaho, Montana, all the Wild West states, we’re not giving up our guns.”
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman, editing by Peter Henderson and Alan Elsner