The following is the first of a three-part series highlighting the companies, advocates and legislators central to the Second Amendment dialogue in Utah. 

Though the heavily armored Lenco BearCat weighs an impressive 17,550 pounds, there is a certain elegance to the vehicle. Capable of traveling 90 miles per hour, the armored tank was designed to provide military and law enforcement personnel the capability to conduct searches and raids with ease. Utah Gun Exchange, the state’s largest online retailer of firearms, owns such a vehicle and uses it for demonstrations at various events.

Utah has become a magnet for over 40 firearm manufacturers who produce “rifles, pistols, bullets, silencers, reloading supplies, camp stoves, targets, optics, gun safes, camouflage clothing, headlamps, sound suppressors, concealed holsters, concealed gun clips, wraps for outdoor gear and a product that allows a cell phone to be mounted to a scope for long-range photos,” as the Salt Lake Tribune noted during the annual SHOT Show. Located in Las Vegas, the event draws nearly 65,000 attendees to the four-day event.

Perhaps local manufacturers such as Browning, Christensen Arms, Black Rifle Coffee or Vista Outdoor already sound familiar; indeed, many of Utah’s vendors are the primary source for gun-related products and services. Individuals often underestimate the immense benefit these companies offer to the economy—the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that in 2017, organizations that manufacture and distribute firearms and ammunition produced 301,123 jobs. The economic windfall of the industry amounts to nearly $51,251,443,900 while providing $15,183,424,700 in wages for those employees.

Lest one forget, these manufacturers also contributed $6,538,736,300 in taxes as well.

Accounted for in the NSSF statistics are the companies in Utah who are contributing in more ways than economic output. Parking their BearCat outside of a rented warehouse facility in Sandy last Saturday, Utah Gun Exchange co-founders Sam Robinson and Bryan Melchior readied themselves for the event. Gathering nearly 1,000 participants in a free concealed carry permit course, Robinson and Melchior carried out “the largest concealed carry course ever taught in the state.” Those permits may not be used by responsible Utahns inside of all public schools and universities.

The focus of that class? Well, as one father of a deceased Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student said in a video aired during the training, “Gun control won’t save your kids. We live in a society where evil is pervasive, and you need to protect yourself from evil.”

Though the event was closed off to the press, the attendees inside were briefed on the full spectrum of concealed carry management. These efforts to engage Utahns with the Second Amendment have carried out in a number of capacities, including several courses hosted at the University of Utah. The 2016 legislative session in Utah opened the pathway for adults aged 18 to 20 years old to register for provisional concealed carry permits—the total number of these carriers is approximately 1,400 residents.

Under Utah state law, educators who are registered to carry have the right to remain anonymous, an option many choose to exercise.

Arming teachers as a layer of defense in schools is an idea worth exploring, and can be implemented easily in Utah. Last month, the Orem Police Department announced that it, too would hold a free concealed carry course for teachers and later said that it would host another after the event quickly filled. Considering the danger that young children face as psychopaths target schools, all options ought to be weighed equally.

Of course, not all businesses in Utah are supportive of the right to purchase certain firearms: including retailers REI, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods. All four have either announced that they will stop ordering products from Utah-based Vista Outdoor — a purveyor of semiautomatic rifles, tactical gear and ammunition — or will enforce restrictions on firearm sales. The “assault rifle” each chose to denounce was the AR-15, which appears tactical and therefore receives additional scrutiny from individuals who know of no other firearms.

As demagogues denounce the efforts made by Utah’s firearms manufacturers and distributers, evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of concealed carry courses has continued to accrue. “From 2007 to 2015, murder rates decreased by 12.5 percent and ‘overall violent crime fell by 18 percent.’ At the same time, ‘the percentage of adults with permits soared by 190 percent,’” read a study by the Crime Prevention Research Center.

States with the largest increases in permits see the largest drops in murder rates, meaning that gun advocates such as the Utah Gun Exchange are properly educating and ensuring the safety of citizens in Utah. From a study in 2013 that drew responses from 15,000 police officers nationwide, “The overwhelming majority (almost 90 percent) of officers believe that casualties would be decreased if armed citizens were present at the onset of an active-shooter incident.”

The support from law enforcement officials aligns with the data that suggest concealed carry permits are beneficial to the community. Changes do need to occur to address the rising epidemic of school shootings. Yet, one wonders how far the restrictions on weapons will eventually reach. Alongside some financial institutions threatening to cut ties with consumers that purchase firearms, added regulations could reach your handgun.

Or perhaps those on the left will stick to sawing AR-15s in half. The handgun restrictions will come later.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

@TheChrony

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