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Utah law tests limits of gun culture in West

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Not so, says John Donohue, professor of law at Stanford University, who has researched the subject for the Brookings Institution. In fact, he says, "criminals may become more likely to carry or be quicker to use a gun in response to increased gun carrying among prospective victims."

Unlike the local Roman Catholic and Episcopalian dioceses, which have publicly stated their opposition to concealed guns in schools, the Mormon Church has not taken an official position on the issue. But the church-owned Deseret Morning News has run a series of editorials against guns in schools. And polls consistently show that most Utahns (approximately 73 percent of whom are Mormon) want to ban guns in schools despite - or perhaps because of - the gun culture here.

This is a politically conservative state, a place where "a Utah Democrat is essentially a national Republican," says one of the relatively few activist Democrats. Still, the state legislature - which meets in a capitol filled with the history of pioneer settlement - tends to reflect an attitude even more conservative than its constituency on such issues.

State legislators recently crafted a law that would make it harder for Utahns to get initiative measures on the ballot here. It's aimed specifically at those pushing for a referendum on the state's concealed-weapons law.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence rates Utah as one of the worst states "at protecting its children from gun violence."

"Utah does not hold adults responsible for leaving loaded guns around children, does not require child-safety locks to be sold with guns, and does not have any handgun-safety standards," states the gun-safety organization. "Utah also forces police to let people carry hidden handguns in public, even into schools, and does not require background checks at gun shows."

The state's current law on concealed weapons went into effect in 1996. In essence, officials may not deny an application for a concealed weapons permit except for good cause - a felony conviction, for example. A short safety course is required, but the applicant does not need to demonstrate any proficiency with a gun.

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