Merced County is untouched by statewide increase in demand for concealed-weapon permits

03/17/2014 11:00 PM

03/17/2014 11:10 PM

Californians have flooded several sheriff’s offices with applications and inquiries for permits to carry concealed guns.

Sheriffs in some politically conservative or rural counties reported spikes in applications, and other counties in the state experienced smaller increases.

Merced County, however, did not see a spike in permit applications, Sheriff Tom Cavallero said.

“We saw the same numbers we usually see for this time of year,” Cavallero said.

Statewide demand is being driven by a federal appeals court ruling last month that made it easier for residents to obtain the difficult-to-get permits. About 56,000 Californians possess concealed-weapons permits in a state of 38 million residents.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 13 that law-abiding residents need only show a desire for self-defense rather than prove they were confronted with a “clear and present danger.”

Since then, the authorities in charge of issuing the permits say they have received numerous applications and fielded even more phone calls seeking permission to carry a concealed weapon.

California’s 58 county sheriffs and the state’s police chiefs are authorized to grant the permits. Historically, police chiefs largely have let sheriffs in their counties handle permitting, according to the California Police Chiefs Association.

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, head of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said application requests rose statewide in the days after the ruling. But the association is not tracking the number of applications, he said, and the state attorney general’s office, citing law enforcement needs, declined to disclose how many applications have been received statewide since the ruling.

Some counties have received far more applications than others. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department, for instance, said it has received a little more than 1,000 applications since the ruling, or about double the applications it receives annually. Ventura, San Joaquin, San Diego and several other smaller and rural counties also reported surges of hundreds of applications, which cost between $150 and $300, depending on the issuing agency.

Sheriff candidates support the ruling

The Merced County Sheriff’s Department reported seven applications in January, 11 in February and 14 in March. Cavallero said that as of Friday, Merced County had about 800 active concealed-carry permits.

The four candidates for the sheriff – Pat Lunney, Jim Soria, Frank Swiggart and Vern Warnke – all said they would support issuing permits for qualified candidates.

Ventura and San Joaquin have joined Orange in changing their permitting policy to make it easier to obtain a license to carry a concealed gun. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said it is accepting applications under the looser policy, but it is awaiting a final ruling.

Alameda County reported a smaller increase of dozens of applications.

California is one of nine states that require government permission to carry a concealed weapon.

Until the 9th Circuit’s three-judge ruling last month, state law required that applicants show “good cause” for having a concealed-carry permit. The court struck that requirement in its ruling, which is on hold after California Attorney General Kamala Harris petitioned the court to rehear the case with a special 11-judge panel.

Although Orange, Ventura and San Joaquin have loosened their policies by requiring applicants to show only a desire for self-defense, no permits have yet been issued because it takes at least three months to process applications. Orange County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jeff Hallock said his department hopes the legal issues will be clarified before a new permit is issued under the new rules.

“The sheriff does respect the ruling of the three-judge panel,” Hallock said.

The ruling arises from a nationwide National Rifle Association legal campaign to scale back gun-control laws, launched after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban and ruled that every law-abiding citizen has the right to possess a handgun in the home.

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