SALT LAKE CITY — The governor said Friday he had vetoed a bill that would have allowed Utah residents to carry a hidden, unloaded gun without a permit.
It was one of the most hotly contested measures to come out of the Utah Legislature this year.
“As I’ve said it before, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Gov. Gary Herbert said, noting the current system has not inhibited the ability of state residents to bear arms.
Supporters of the bill say they will urge lawmakers to overturn the veto.
Existing laws on the issue work well and provide an important tool for law enforcement agencies, which prefer the permit system, Herbert, a Republican, said.
“It does give you a second line of defense for background checks,” he said.
Herbert’s office has received thousands of phone calls and letters from supporters and opponents of the bill.
Supporters said it would mark a watershed moment for gun rights and legalize an already common practice for farmers and ranchers in the state’s outer reaches.
Opponents, including the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, Utah League of Cities and Towns, and Catholic leaders, said the bill would present serious public safety concerns by eliminating the need for classes or background checks involving the possession of firearms.
Aides to the governor said a tide of opposition surfaced in March. It marked a change from late February, when public comments to Herbert overwhelmingly supported the measure.
Rep. John Mathis, who sponsored the bill, told lawmakers during this year’s legislative session that the current law presents a problem for ranchers who inadvertently cover their gun when putting on a jacket in bad weather.
“All this bill does is simply allow those who want to carry openly — who can do it now — to put a coat over that gun,” Mathis said last month.
Herbert addressed that argument in his veto letter.
“I understand that concern, but am unwilling to discard an entire system that benefits the people of Utah and is supported by law enforcement when there could be a solution more narrowly tailored to address that issue,” he wrote.
Messages seeking further comment from Mathis were not immediately returned on Friday.
The bill would have allowed gun owners to carry a hidden weapon as long as it was unloaded. A permit would still be required to carry a hidden weapon on a school campus or in another state that honors Utah’s concealed weapon permits.
A gun is considered unloaded in Utah if there’s no round in the chamber.
In his veto statement, Herbert, a gun owner himself and holder of a concealed carry permit, said he understands the value of weapons training and familiarity with Utah gun laws now required to obtain a concealed weapons permit.
More than 430,000 people hold Utah concealed carry permits. That includes Utah residents and some people who live outside the state.
Charles Hardy, public policy director of Gun Owners of Utah, said Hebert’s veto was a slap in the face.
The bill was not a drastic step, Hardy said, and he didn’t expect the governor to oppose it.
“Frankly I am a little bit surprised. I think that this will be quite damaging to the governor’s support from much of his base,” he said
The right to carry a gun is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, and therefore no permit or license should be required, Hardy said.
Hardy said he and others in the gun-owning community will urge the Legislature to override the veto.
Republican House Speaker Becky Lockhart has said the bill is veto-proof because it won two-thirds of House and Senate votes.
“We’re hoping that they leave it alone.” said Miriam Walkingshaw, executive director of Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, who called the veto an important step for Utah.
Lawmakers have until May 13 to call a veto override session.
Associated Press writer Annie Knox contributed to this report.