THE NEW LAW
Nearly every one of the 45 active sheriff-issued CCWs in Santa Clara County cited a risk of robbery or assault to justify their CCW request. Some mentioned disputes with a co-worker or former employee. One man called himself a “high value terrorist target.”
Other CCW holders stated in their applications that they deal in precious metals, or arms dealing, or they own land under siege by “illegal marijuana gardens.” All of the 45 names provided by the sheriff are traditional male names. Neither gender nor race is listed in the redacted applications.
In reviewing the data, nine of the permit holders donated to Sheriff Smith's recent re-election campaign. Two men belonged to the Sheriff’s Advisory Board in 2011. Both Jim Rees—grandson of legendary personal injury attorney James Boccardo, for whom trails and business school buildings are now named—and private eye Gregg Dietz still hold their permits. Because these CCWs, which must be renewed every two years, are so rare, there is some cachet to being a concealed carrier. With the ability to transport a weapon comes recognition. Possession of a CCW can be used to signal officers during traffic stops that the holder is a background-checked friend of law enforcement. But this isn’t an argument used in the application process. Rees cited his real estate management company as the reason for needing a CCW, while Dietz runs an investigation firm.
Pro-gun special interests like the NRA have actively shopped the slogan, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” as seen in NRA president Wayne LaPierre’s tasteless post-Newtown press conference. The man who picked up the torch from Charlton Heston’s cold, dead hands has also claimed that violent crime is lower “in jurisdictions that recognize the ‘right to carry.’”
A favorite citation of the “more guns, less crime” crowd is a 1997 study by John Lott and David Mustard, which analyzed data for U.S. counties over a 25-year period. It reported that easing restrictions on concealed carry deterred violent crime and produced no increase in accidental deaths. The report also noted that property crimes increased in states allowing concealed carry, leading the authors to conclude that criminals were “substituting” property crime for violent crime.
In a major follow-up study, Stanford professor John Donohue found that although the passage of relaxed concealed weapon laws did indeed accompany a drop in violent crime, the guns did not deserve credit. A major 2004 report by the National Research Council committee on Firearms and Violence reached the same conclusion, stating that the results were inconclusive. But in another report by Donahue, published last December, he cautiously suggested CCWs could lead to an increase in the number of aggravated assaults.
Brandon Combs, president of Cal Guns, a pro-gun lobbyist group, took a middle-ground tack in a phone interview. "I'm not arguing that more guns equals less crime, but there's no evidence that more guns equals more crime," he said.
Though the number of guns Americans own is increasing, the percentage of households containing a gun is decreasing, according to a CNN report. These people are almost certainly the type to request a CCW. In a search of Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office records, at least 65 percent of the requests made were for more than one gun.
Combs went on: “From our perspective the bigger issue here is restoring fundamental rights that we ought to have had the entire time.” And this might be the hinge upon which Peruta is decided. In the late 80s and early 90s, looser restrictions were placed on CCW laws across the country as a reaction to spikes in crime. It was hypothesized that they would do the public good: more guns, less crime. But if this hypothesis is false, what’s left to support expansion of concealed weapons permits is an argument for constitutional rights. For some, this is enough on its own. But whether this right is truly allowed to all populations in America, or even desirable, is not clear.
If Peruta is not overturned, the prevalence of guns in public could reach unprecedented levels—more than 85 percent of the U.S. population would then live in a “shall issue” state, according to the Washington Post. This is up from 10 percent of the population in 1986.
Mike McLively, of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, thinks the 9th Circuit Court review will likely reverse the Peruta decision in June. Even if the case is appealed to the Supreme Court, it is unlikely the justices will hear it. After two landmark Second Amendment cases in 2008 and 2010, the court has had 65 opportunities to consider another. It has taken none of them.
But if Peruta succeeds, McLively says, estimates of more than half a million new CCW permits in California within a year are reasonable. And the effects won’t be positive. “I don’t want to paint this as some kind of doomsday scenario,” he says, “but I would expect an increase in gun deaths.”
The fight over concealed weapon permits is not limited to gun control, constitutional rights or upticks and reductions in crime. These are debates for public consumption. The argument for greater access to CCWs will always go back to the gun itself, and the mindset of those who appreciate the control and power it provides.
Josh Koehn contributed to this report.