The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals plans to rehear Edward Peruta v. County of San Diego in June, after a decision early last year.
Upholding the original decision would bring state concealed weapon law closer in line with much of the rest of the country. California is a “may issue” state, meaning that even if a citizen meets the letter of the law—passes a psych evaluation, background check and training course—the sheriff of their county, or city police chief in some cases, can decide whether the applicant has “good cause” for a concealed weapon permit, or CCW. In “shall issue” states, of which there are 37, a permit must be issued if the letter of the law is met, no matter the prerogative of law enforcement. Plaintiffs in the Peruta case take issue with the county’s “good cause” requirement, claiming it unduly restricts their Second Amendment rights.
Last February, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Peruta, who was denied a CCW permit in San Diego County. Sheriff William Gore declined to appeal the case, prompting both Attorney General Kamala Harris—eager for a cause as she runs for U.S. Senate—and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to take up the fight. The Ninth Circuit is slated to rehear the case this summer with a full eleven-judge panel.
The gun lobby and its supporters aren’t waiting around for a decision, though. Since the Peruta case was filed, concealed weapon permit applications in California have skyrocketed. Numbers vary across different sheriff offices. Last year there were more than 450 CCW applications across seven Bay Area counties. That’s at least 300 more requests than 2013, and even more than the previous four years combined.
The surge in requests here in Santa Clara County is even more striking. Sheriff Laurie Smith’s office provided documentation showing that 284 applications for CCWs were received in 2014. The year prior, the sheriff’s office received just three applications. In the four years preceding 2014, the Santa Clara County sheriff’s office received a total of 43 applications. (Totals do not include judges, prosecutors and other government employees whose gun possession is exempt from disclosure.)
Most Bay Area counties are notoriously tightfisted about granting permits and discussing how they are issued. San Francisco County, for example, has given out none since 2010. Santa Clara County has granted 26 in the last five years. Of the seven counties contacted for data, Alameda County came in third with 90, San Mateo County granted the second most with 95, and San Benito County issued 64 in 2013 to push its five-year total to 120. Sheriffs of low population rural counties have a reputation for granting more permits than urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco. One tactic people take is to make requests for CCWs in rural counties where they own property, despite not living there full time.
Sheriff Smith has placed a moratorium on all new permits until the Peruta case and two pending lawsuits filed against the county have been resolved. Her office declined to go on the record for this story, but conversations with county staff suggest the huge influx in requests last year has overwhelmed the sheriff’s office, which is required to do background checks. Just two CCW requests—made prior to the lawsuits—were processed in 2014.
In an unusual reversal of policy, San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel has gotten into the concealed carry business. From 2002 to 2013, SJPD’s previous top cops—William Lansdowne, Rob Davis and Chris Moore—approved just three out of 25 concealed carry applications. Since Esquivel took over in late 2013, the department has approved 29 out of 32 permit requests, and one of those three denials—for a request made by Jet Blue CEO David Neeleman—occurred only because the applicant said he was “no longer interested.”
A closer inspection of those who were approved for CCWs shows Esquivel is arming reserve officers—on-call volunteers who must work two days a month—with weapons in their free time. Twenty-three of the CCWs he has granted went to reserve officers.
Enrique Garcia, a public information officer for SJPD, told San Jose Inside that Esquivel instituted “a change in philosophy” on CCWs only for top-level reserve officers. Garcia cited “safety considerations,” such as protection from people reserves may encounter in the line of duty, as one justification.
Law enforcement agencies vary in how much they try to shield this information. Multiple agencies failed to comply with records requests in a timely manner, from non-responsive public information officers and “lost” emails to the repeated delivery of incorrect or incomplete data. Without knowing if this was intentional or not, the process of acquiring information over the last six months has shown that there is no consistency in CCW permit record keeping or data collection across Bay Area law enforcement agencies. And in some cases, the record keeping is rudimentary at best.
During an inspection of CCW requests at the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy handed over a 10-page list of names—this, he said, was the office’s lone record for the history of CCW holders going back to 2009. Along with a stack of applications for active CCW holders, Metro was told, no other local records exist. A spokesman for Sheriff Smith said the office was advised not to comment for this story at the direction of county counsel, citing ongoing legal disputes. After communicating with agencies across the Bay Area, one thing is clear: None of these agencies have a clue how their neighbors handle CCW requests.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office had no information on municipal police departments within the county granting CCWs, but a spokesman said he would be interested to find out. The same was true for SJPD. Not all police departments in Silicon Valley responded to requests for comment, but it appears the lone South Bay police department that has given out a CCW—outside of San Jose—is Campbell, which said it has renewed just “one or two” over the last 15 years.