By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Tex. (Reuters) - Texans seeking concealed handgun licenses are increasingly turning to Utah, a state that does not require actually shooting a gun to get a permit.
"Once the word got out, everybody was doing it," said Texas state Rep. Lon Burnam.
From 2009 to 2010 the number of Utah permits issued to Texans more than doubled to 5,678 from 2,173, according to Utah's Bureau of Criminal Identification. Of the 66,371 permits Utah issued last year, more than 70 percent went to out-of-staters, bureau figures show. All this was while the overall number of concealed licenses issued in Utah declined.
Utah requires only four hours of training and no shooting, while Texas requires 10 hours, including firing a gun on a shooting range. The Utah fee is $65, compared to $140 in Texas. And it's possible to get a Utah permit without ever setting foot in that state.
"It's easier," said Carrie Kroll of the Texas Pediatric Society, who got a Utah permit in advance of the Texas legislative session that began in January. "I know just enough to understand what I don't know."
The Utah course teaches how to safely load, unload, store and carry a firearm, and explains Utah and federal laws on use of force by private citizens. Participants learn basic gun safety, such as treating all firearms as if they are loaded, and they learn about the parts of a gun, different types of ammunition and various shooting positions.
Utah applicants do not have to take a test while applicants to the Texas program do.
Brian Malte, director of state legislation for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he worries that some people are getting Utah permits because they want to skirt background-check provisions in their home states.
"What are they hiding?" Malte asked.
Aware of the loophole, Utah is moving to tighten requirements. A bill recently approved by the Utah House and Senate would require out-of-staters seeking a Utah permit to first get one from their home state if their state recognizes the Utah permit. The proposal followed decisions by Nevada and New Mexico to stop recognizing Utah permits.
"We didn't want to have a cottage industry of issuing concealed weapons permits for the whole United States," said Utah state Sen. John Valentine, author of the measure.
The Utah bill is headed for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's desk for signature.
If he signs the new law, it could put a damper on the applications from Texas, where lobbyists and others are getting licenses because of new security measures at the State Capitol building in Austin. Concealed handgun license holders can bypass the airport-style security checkpoints that went into effect last year.
In Texas, Burnam has proposed a bill that would end recognition of out-of-state permits, except for visitors. Burnam said he is concerned about the loss of revenue to Texas and the fact that Texans are bypassing important safety requirements.
"When my family discovered that my widowed grandmother kept a handgun in a hatbox, we didn't have a problem with it because she grew up shooting jackrabbits and rattlesnakes in West Texas," Burnam said.
Now, he said, Texans with out-of-state permits include "suburban housewives who have never held a gun in their life and don't know how to use it," he said. "That's concerning."
But Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a former state senator who wrote Texas' concealed handgun law and has been known to carry a gun in his boot, said that the most important parts of the license process are checking criminal history and ensuring an understanding of deadly force.
"Proficiency (with a gun) is kind of gravy," Patterson said.
(Editing by Greg McCune)