Sunday, November 06, 2005
Utah issues over 7,000 hunting licenses to convicted felons who are not allowed to have or use weapons
SALT LAKE CITY - They shoot to kill, but what many hunters don't realize: they're sharing Utah's backcountry with convicted felons. Bill Gephardt has spent months looking into this and he has some alarming information.
The law is clear: a convicted felon can never touch a firearm. For five months now, I've been trying to find out who is flouting this law. I took the records from Utah’s Department of Corrections and the Division of Wildlife Resources and cross-referenced the two, looking for felons who've purchased hunting licenses. Wait till you see the results.
The fall hunt -- a tradition passed from father to son. One hunter even described the experience as being "like Christmas when you're a little kid."
But what many law-abiding hunters might not know is that convicted felons are sharing the woods with them.
"That’s a pretty dangerous situation," reacted one hunter.
Dangerous and against the law!
"State law says if you are a convicted felon, you cannot have, own, operate or be in possession of a weapon," explains Jack Ford, spokesperson for Utah Department of Corrections.
But look what I found. For the past five months, I've been comparing the names of Utah's 170,000 convicted felons with the 159,000 people who got a Utah hunting license this year.
My producers have checked and re-checked the addresses, dates of birth, felony convictions and hunting permits of thousands of Utahans. And what we've found is astounding. More than 7,000 convicted felons were able to get a hunting license from the state!
Those results caused some concern for the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division.
"Was it disturbing to you?" asked Bill.
"Yeah, we were surprised at what we found,” said Director Jim Karpowitz. "
"It's legal for them to purchase a license," explained Karpowitz. "It's not legal for them to use a firearm. And if it was their intent to go out with a firearm, then they needed to be reminded that it's not okay do that," he said.
We found convicted murderers, child rapists and armed robbers who had been granted coveted tags, like limited entry deer and elk licenses. That doesn't sit well with some.
"That’s not right is it?" said one local hunter. "Not when you’re takin' my tags away from me. “
"So we have a difficult time trying to hunt the areas we want to hunt because we can't draw out,” a second hunter pointed out.
A third hunter told me, "That’s not right. That’s upsetting.”
When we brought our findings to the Department of Corrections and Wildlife's attention, they responded immediately. In fact, a new system is in place to track down convicted felons on probation and parole or in prison that also have a hunting license.
"You've made us aware of this and we are going out and pursuing it actively," said Jack Ford.
But the state is only responsible for keeping track of the 20,000 ex-cons who are still in the corrections system.
"We've made a home visit, we've looked at their licenses," said Ford.
But that's not all. The home of some of those convicted felons is right behind me, here at the Utah State Prison.
What is still looming for the state of Utah-- how to handle the 150,000 other felons who have served their time, are no longer in the system, but still cannot touch a gun.
"These people are off paper, we are not supervising them," said Ford.
The Department of Natural Resources has also agreed to change hunting applications, making it crystal clear that if you are a convicted felon, you cannot use a gun or any weapon to hunt. Those 76 tags that were confiscated by corrections officials are now being returned to the felons. Utah authorities have determined they can’t legally take those permits away under the current rule.
Both DWR and the Department of Corrections hope to keep all felons from getting licenses next year. Right now, it’s up to you and me to report felons who are out of the system but using guns to hunt. No police agency is watching.