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Background Checks and Utah

1.22.2020

Summary

Utah state authorities regularly stop prohibited purchasers from making illegal gun purchases. And yet Utah has not closed the unlicensed sale loophole, meaning that prohibited people can take advantage of the unlicensed gun market — and get armed illegally.

Utah has already been a leader in several areas relating to firearm background checks, closing the “Charleston Loophole,” notifying local authorities of all background check denials, running recurring background checks on concealed carry permit holders, and allowing law enforcement to deny carry permits to applicants who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Felons, domestic abusers, and other prohibited people attempt to buy guns regularly in Utah — and are stopped only by a background check.

From 2014-2018, a total of nearly 10,000 sales to prohibited purchasers were denied — including nearly 2,000 illegal sales to convicted felons, over 650 illegal sales to prohibited domestic abusers, and nearly 300 illegal sales to people prohibited due to mental illness.1Firearm Transfer/Concealed Firearm Permit Statistics. Taylorsville, UT. Utah Department of Public Safety, Criminal Identification (BCI). https://bit.ly/2VrS4YY.

The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation is responsible for all background checks at the point of purchase. The Utah Legislature has been a leader in empowering BCI to stop illegal purchases, closing the “Charleston Loophole” by requiring that a BCI background check must be complete before any sale may proceed. Utah law also requires state authorities to notify local law enforcement of every denial, so police may investigate those illegal attempted purchases.

Only 1.9% of background checks were denied — meaning roughly 98% of Utah purchases were not affected by the background check.2Firearm Transfer/Concealed Firearm Permit Statistics. Taylorsville, UT. Utah Department of Public Safety, Criminal Identification (BCI). https://bit.ly/2VrS4YY.


Utah has not closed the unlicensed sale loophole, meaning felons, domestic abusers, and other prohibited people can skip a background check and get armed simply by seeking an unlicensed seller at a gun show or online. Recent data gives a glimpse at the size of that loophole in Utah.

A recent study of the online gun market Armlist.com shows that in 2018 alone, there were nearly 1.2 million ads nationwide for firearm sales that would not require a background check—including 1,332 such posts in Utah.3Everytown for Gun Safety. Unchecked: Over 1 Million Online Firearm Ads, No Background Checks Required. February 2019. https://every.tw/2UXjYwf

Using several sample states, that study showed that 1 in 9 would-be buyers on Armslist.com would have failed a background check. If that rate held for Utah’s gun posts, roughly 150 prohibited Utah purchasers would purchase guns in a given year using Armslist.com.4Everytown for Gun Safety. Unchecked: Over 1 Million Online Firearm Ads, No Background Checks Required. February 2019. https://every.tw/2UXjYwf.


 Utah has also served as a model in the concealed carry permitting arena, revoking or suspending permits on thousands of occasions over the last several years.

Utah is among a minority of states that runs regular background checks on its concealed carry permit holders — and evidence shows those background checks work. Over the past 5 years, Utah has revoked or suspended permits on nearly 8,000 occasions (nearly 3,500 times between 2014 and 2018, excluding actions taken for insufficient fingerprinting).5Firearm Transfer/Concealed Firearm Permit Statistics. Taylorsville, UT. Utah Department of Public Safety, Criminal Identification (BCI). https://bit.ly/2VrS4YY.

These permits have been revoked or suspended for offenses including aggravated assault, child kidnapping, and assault on a police officer.

Utah law enforcement are also authorized to deny, suspend, or revoke these permits when a person poses a threat to self or others — authority they have used over 350 times over the last five years.6Firearm Transfer/Concealed Firearm Permit Statistics. Taylorsville, UT. Utah Department of Public Safety, Criminal Identification (BCI). https://bit.ly/2VrS4YY.

Utah has resisted gun lobby efforts to repeal its permit system altogether, including that Gov. Herbert has vetoed a “permitless carry” bill.


Too many Utahans are killed with guns.

Every year, 365 Utahans are killed with guns and thousands more are shot and injured.7Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017.

State laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales – by point-of-sale check and/or permit – are associated with lower firearm homicide rates, lower firearm suicide rates and lower firearm trafficking.8Siegel M, Boine C. What are the most effective policies in reducing firearm homicides? Rockefeller Government Institute. 2019; Fleegler EW, Lee LK, Monuteaux MC, Hemenway D, Mannix R. Firearm legislation and firearm-related fatalities in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2013; 173(9):732-740; Webster DW, Vernick JS, Bulzacchelli MT. Effects of state-level firearm seller accountability policies on firearm trafficking. Journal of Urban Health. 2009. 86(4):525–537; Federal law bars felons from having firearms, but does not bar misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context. Webster DW, Vernick JS, McGinty EE, & Alcorn T. Preventing the diversion of guns to criminals through effective firearm sales laws. In Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. 2013.Vol. 9781421411118, pp. 109-121. A 2019 analysis found that states with laws requiring background checks for all gun sales are associated with a 10 percent lower homicide rates.9Siegel M, Boine C. What are the most effective policies in reducing firearm homicides? Rockefeller Government Institute. 2019.


It is convenient to find a licensed dealer in Utah ad complete a background check.

Requiring background checks on all gun sales would not be burdensome to law-abiding Utahans. In fact, 98.9 percent of Utahans live within 10 miles of a gun dealer—so it’s easy and convenient to get the background check done.10Federal Firearms Listings. Washington, D.C. ATF. https://bit.ly/2SPLs9O. Analyses were done to determine the latitude and longitude of each licensed dealer and duplicates by latitude, longitude, and state were removed for a total of 755 unique licensed gun dealers in Utah; Andrews, Colman. Is your state ‘lovin’ it’? A look at where the most McDonald’s are located in the US. USA Today. https://bit.ly/2vWWugb; Postmaster Finder. Washington, D.C. United States Postal Service. https://bit.ly/2qiWoOi.

There are 755 unique gun dealers in Utah, nearly seven times as many McDonald’s and more than four times as many post offices.11Everytown analysis of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) dealers and U.S. population. Data on licensed gun dealers were obtained from the ATF through November 2018 here: https://bit.ly/2SPLs9O . Data on census block groups were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau here: https://bit.ly/2BCfBzw. Distance was calculated between the centroid of each census block group and each licensed dealer to determine the closest dealer.


Loopholes in the background check law enable gun trafficking in Utah.

Existing loopholes in the background check law in Utah are negatively impacting states that have closed the background check loophole. Research has shown that state laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales are associated with 48 percent lower rates of gun trafficking in cities and 29 percent lower rates of gun trafficking across state lines.12Webster DW, Vernick JS, Bulzacchelli MT. Effects of state-level firearm seller accountability policies on firearm trafficking. Journal of Urban Health. 2009. 86(4):525–537; Federal law bars felons from having firearms, but does not bar misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context. Webster DW, Vernick JS, McGinty EE, & Alcorn T. Preventing the diversion of guns to criminals through effective firearm sales laws. In Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. 2013.Vol. 9781421411118, pp. 109-121.

Between 2013 and 2017, over 2,700 crime guns that originated in Utah were recovered in crimes in states outside of Utah – nearly 1,500 of these crime guns were traced in states that have comprehensive background check laws.13Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Firearms trace data. https://bit.ly/2nigapL. Totals were developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017. This excludes crime guns recovered in CO and DE in 2013, WA in 2013 and 2014, and OR in 2013-2015.

And the unregulated, online marketplace has enabled prohibited purchasers to weaken state background check laws by traveling to neighboring states without these laws. Between 2016 and 2017, three individuals were arrested for trafficking an estimated 90 firearms purchased on Armslist.com and Facebook into Illinois from Kentucky. These firearms were subsequently linked to violent crimes in Illinois.14Yablon A. Chicago felons busted for gun trafficking bought weapons via Armslist and Facebook. The Trace. May 16, 2018. Available at https://bit.ly/2FJpTja.

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