Noah Dressel, the gun counter manager at Missoula's Wholesale Sports, has a permit issued by the state of Montana to carry a concealed firearm. But the permit isn't valid in Washington, a state he often travels through, nor is it valid in Minnesota, where his parents live. So Dressel obtained what's become the gun-lover's golden ticket—a Utah concealed firearm permit. It gives Dressel the freedom to carry a concealed weapon in the 32 other states that recognize or have formal reciprocity with Utah's gun laws—including Washington, Minnesota and Montana.
What's more, Dressel didn't have to travel to Utah to get one. He took a class right at Wholesale Sports, taught by an instructor from Oregon. In the mid-1990s the Utah Legislature waived residency requirements for the state's permit, making it easy to get and highly desirable across the country. The permit's become especially popular in the past two years as gun sales have surged following the election of President Barack Obama.
For instance, Wholesale Sports in Missoula has hosted four Utah concealed firearm permit classes since August, attracting roughly 200 people, Dressel says. Kevin Faherty, a Portland, Ore.-based private investigator, teaches the $80 course.
"A lot of the people who I've talked to like the structured curriculum of [the class]," Dressel says, "and the fact that there are a couple key states close to Montana that people pick up."
The demand for Utah's concealed firearm permit has risen sharply in recent years. According to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, which administers the permits, the state issued 76,324 concealed-carry permits in 2009, more than twice the number issued in 2008. Since the program's inception in 1994, Utah has issued a total of 269,009—about one-tenth of the state's population.
"I think what makes our permit popular is it has wide-ranging reciprocity," says Doug Anderson, the program's manager. "It's relatively inexpensive and it's simple to obtain. There's training required, though the Utah Legislature does not feel the need to have any kind of practical course [that requires firing a gun]."
Utah's lax requirements explain why nearly half of all permits, by Anderson's estimation, have been issued to non-residents. So far this year he suspects about 70 percent of the permits issued have been granted to out-of-staters.
"The popularity of the permit outside the boundaries of Utah has increased dramatically over the last couple of years," Anderson says.
Montana's concealed-carry permit has become increasingly popular, too. The state Department of Justice counted 23,708 permit holders at the end of June, up from 13,914 at the same point in 2006. The permit is recognized by or has reciprocity with 27 other states, but is only available to Montana residents.
"There definitely has been a surge in demand," says Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association.
For the last 15 years Marbut has taught a certification class and has graduated, he says, a total of about 3,000 students.
"In previous years I've been able to satisfy the demand with two classes in the spring and two classes in the fall with 20 people per class." Marbut says. "Last year I did 12 or 14 classes in order to keep up with the demand. And this year I think I've done six or seven so far. So there is clearly an increased demand, but I do see that increased demand tapering off somewhat."
Marbut and Dressel agree the demand can be attributed to Obama's presidential victory in 2008, which sparked widespread fears of tighter gun control laws and, subsequently, a run on guns and ammunition. That said, nearly two years after Obama's election, the trend appears to be more the product of paranoia than prudence. Even the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called Obama's first year in office an "abject failure" and scored the president an "F" for his administration's "extraordinary silence and passivity," even repealing the rules keeping loaded guns out of national parks. (Incidentally, and unsurprisingly, the National Rifle Association also gave Obama a failing grade.)
Marbut chalks up the trend to basic nervousness.
"Uncertainty, generally, and more specifically, what might happen politically with gun control laws," he says. "And then what might happen to the economy. Is the bottom going to fall out and are we going to have to defend our homes from bands of scavenging predators?"
In any case, Dressel, of Wholesale Sports, thinks there are more guns and gun owners than ever before, and so it can only be good that an increasing number of people are taking the gun training classes required for concealed-carry permits in Utah and elsewhere.
"I think it promotes a safer community of firearms owners," Dressel says. "And the more people become involved with shooting, the more the mystique of 'a gun is an evil thing' diminishes."
Wholesale Sports holds its next Utah concealed firearm permit class on Sunday, July 25, at 1 p.m.