When it comes to carrying a gun, instructor Bryan Fletcher makes one thing clear:
“If you shoot a gun, It will change your life.”
Fletcher says the same thing to his students every month, during a certification class for Maryland residents interested in obtaining a Utah Conceal and Carry permit.
If obtained, the permit allows residents to carry a concealed handgun in 36 states.
The catch: you don’t have to be a resident of Utah to have it.
A year after Maryland passed stricter gun legislation, a growing number of residents are turning to other states for help in obtaining a conceal and carry permit.
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And, the numbers are on the rise.
“The Utah permit is one of the most popular choices because it’s accepted in most states,” Fletcher said. “Since I started offering the permit class a few years ago, my classes are regularly at maximum capacity.”
In just two decades,70 percent of the more than 500,000 concealed-carry Utah permits were issued to nonresidents.
Of that number, Utah public safety officials said 15,128 Marylanders were issued the Utah permit, up five percent from 2011.
Other states, including Florida and Virginia, are also reporting a similar trend.
Between 2008 and 2013, Florida safety officials saw a double digit increase in the amount of nonresidents applying for conceal and carry permits, rising from 9,000 to more than 30,000. About 4,200 of the permits were obtained by Marylanders.
Virginia, saw out-of-state permits go from 1,088 to 5,336 in just four years.
“This isn’t new,” said Aaron Keller, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture. “We had been seeing this trend for a while. It’s not only happening in Maryland, but the whole country.”
Carl Gold, a constitutional law professor at Towson University, said the reason for the upswing has to do with the laws surrounding the way a person can get a permit in Maryland.
“Maryland is a may issue state,” he said. “It’s one of the few states that put restrictions on conceal and carry permits.”
Gold said the spike in residents seeking out of state permits has to do a with a ruling in the court case of Woollard v. Gallagher from a few years ago.
In the case, Maryland resident Raymond Woollard sued then Terrence Sheridan, Secretary of the Maryland State Police, for the right to renew his conceal and carry permit after being denied.
After several appeals, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, citing that public interest taken by Maryland lawmakers to reduce gun violence was in the greater public interest in regards to safety.
Woollard took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they denied to review it.
“As you can see, it’s a very polarizing issue,” Gold said. “When it comes to the second amendment, there is that intersection of science, law and morality.”
When issued, these types of permits allow Marylanders to conceal and carry in another state that honors the permit, said Neil Kravitz, a gun lobbyist from Baltimore County.
“These permits can’t be used in Maryland,they’re ideal for vacation,” he said. “While they are honored in other states, it’s important for the gun owner to understand how the law works in every jurisdiction--that requires a little bit of homework.”
Kravitz said the rise in the number of out-of-state permits should send a message to Maryland legislators on what residents really want.
“It’s not a surprise, people want to feel safe. They want the right to own a gun,” he said. “The problem is, both sides will never meet in the middle.”
He hopes the numbers convince lawmakers to lessen current gun restrictictions in Maryland.
Last year, state lawmakers passed the Firearm Safety Act, a series of laws that restrict the way residents can buy and carry guns in Maryland.
Vincent DeMarco, president of the anti-gun violence group Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said his group has worked diligently with legislators to ensure the law was passed and implemented effectively.
He said these laws won’t change anytime soon, given the support they’ve received from around the state.
“In the wake of everything, our goal is to reduce violent crime in Maryland,” he said. “I am confident these laws will help with that.”
DeMarco said that while residents might go to other states to obtain a conceal and carry permit, it’s not possible in Maryland, which is his biggest concern.
“Other states need to start working with us and start implementing the gun policies we have put in place,” he said. “By working together, we can make Maryland and the whole country safer.”
Obtaining a Utah Permit
The process of obtaining a Utah Conceal and Carry permit requires residents to take a gun safety class from a certified instructor.
In Maryland, the number of Utah certified instructors has risen from eight to 45 since 2009. Some
gun store owners even bring in Utah instructors to teach the course, Kravitz said.
Fletcher saw the potential and flew to Utah to become certified himself. He returns every few years to be recertified.
The nearly four-hour class is usually held once a month and costs under $50. Students who take the class can range from experienced shooters to novice enthusiasts.
“It’s a mix, but for the most part, a majority of my students are aware of how to operate a gun,” he said.
Fletcher designed his class in a “one-stop shop” fashion. Those who attend have to have all the documents in order to apply for the permit, including photo identification and a set of fingerprints.
“Taking the class is easy, passing the background check and filling out the paperwork is the hard part,” he said.
Material covered includes all aspects of gun safety, including a review of laws and tips on carrying a firearm safely.
“I never sugar-coat this information,” he said. “Owning a gun is one of the biggest responsibilities you can have… It’s also expensive.”
Kravitz, now a retired gun instructor, said he hopes to utilize his Florida conceal and carry permit more in the next year.
“I am ready to move there,” he said. “It’s time to get to a warmer climate.”