Sheriff facing lawsuit over concealed carry permit process

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin is one of several California sheriffs being scrutinized over his jurisdiction's concealed carry weapons permit process — and the issue has morphed into a lawsuit.

CCW permits allow citizens to legally carry concealed firearms in public if they demonstrate proficiency with a handgun, pass a background check, show they are mentally stable and have a legitimate reason for a permit.

The lawsuit, which was filed by three Merced County residents and Calguns — a nonprofit organization that aims to protect gun rights — claims the Merced County Sheriff's Department has violated state law by requiring applicants to do more to obtain a CCW permit than what's legally mandated.

Items called into question include additional fees, assessments and a nine-month moratorium that was placed on new applicants. The sheriff's department suspended the issuance of permits from April 19, 2010, to Jan. 13, 2011, said Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman, who added that a huge influx of demand for the permits and limited staffing because of budget constraints led to the hiatus.

CCW permits are back to being issued by the sheriff's department in Merced County, MacKenzie noted.

That moratorium is the main cause of the lawsuit, which is still in its initial stages, said Mission Viejo-based attorney Jason Davis, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs. "Merced is one of the more egregious violators," he said. "That’s why they've been targeted." Pazin declined to comment on pending litigation.

Roger Matzkind, chief civil litigator for Merced County, didn't want to talk too much about the case either, since it's pending, but he did say both parties are viewing the law from varying frames of reference. "We think we're right, and he (Davis) thinks it's not quite right," Matzkind said.

Plaintiffs Seth Rossow, Michelle Rossow and James Chester Clark each applied for CCW permits in the latter half of 2010 and were denied, according to the complaint filed with the Merced County Superior Court.

Seth and Michelle Rossow were both missing forms required by the department to get a license. The reason Clark was given for his denial was because of "the influx of applications, budget cutbacks and staffing shortages," which led Pazin to establish the moratorium, according to the complaint.

After submitting a second application in February, Clark was issued a CCW permit, according to the complaint.

With the lawsuit, Calguns hopes to get the Merced County Sheriff's Department to comply with state law, Davis said.

Calguns has found issues with CCW permit processes in several departments throughout California, and Davis said those concerns will be looked into and lawsuits will be filed on a case-by-case basis.

MacKenzie said there are more than 700 active CCW permits in Merced County.

There are about $200 worth of fees associated with obtaining a license, and it last for two years.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.