Placer’s concealed gun licensing in cross-hairs of shifting weapons-access debate

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County Sheriff’s Office is holding steady on its concealed weapons policy as more permits are issued in neighboring counties. Both Sacramento and El Dorado counties have increased the number of permits issued in recent months as new sheriff’s take charge and legal pressures mount from groups like Calguns intent on easing what it says are unlawful concealed weapons procedures. Capt. Don Hutchinson of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said that with the state of California intent on releasing more prisoners, permit issuers will take a “wait-and-see” approach to handle potentially increased demand. “But sometimes things socially, do make a difference with numbers,” Hutchinson said. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office’s most recent count done in May shows 1,484 outstanding permits. That compares with 1,073 five years ago and 1,125 in 2001. “For us, it’s been consistent,” Hutchinson said. “It has been increasing slightly but so has the population of the county.” Unlike some counties, which have large cities that issue their own permits, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office handles all permit applications. Cost is $20 for an initial interview and if the applicant decides to proceed, another $195, which includes Department of Justice and FBI background reports. The two-step procedure allows applicants to bow out without having to pay the full fee upfront and then being rejected, Hutchinson said. Out of 577 applications in 2010, 30 were rejected. Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn said his department can provide input on background checks but the procedures and final decisions are all done at the sheriff’s office. Auburn Police don’t even know how many concealed weapons permits are issued to residents within city limits and wouldn’t have the resources to monitor such a program, he said. “We’re very happy with the process,” Ruffcorn said. Statistics from El Dorado County show concealed weapon licenses jumped from 217 in the first six months of 2010 to 380 during the same period this year. Sacramento County, with new Sheriff Scott Jones running on a more permissive concealed weapons process, saw the number of permits increase to 739 through the end of July – quadruple the number issued for all of last year. Gene Hoffman, chairman of San Carlos-based Calguns Foundation, said that the four-year-old non-profit is finding continuing success in bringing court fights against sheriffs in California who are putting illegal roadblocks in the way of people gaining concealed gun licenses. The Sacramento County permit process was redefined because of lawsuits and Placer County is continuing to resist early attempts to ease restrictions, Hoffman said. At issue is whether sheriff’s offices can force applicants to define why they want a permit, Hoffman said. Calguns was successful earlier this year in a court ruling that required the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office to turn over all “good cause statements” for publication. Hoffman said the information in the statements – which are now available online but heavily redacted to eliminate any chance of identifying applicants – can show reasons Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean considers acceptable for obtaining a carry license. It would be better to issue permits on a “shall” basis, which wouldn’t require applicants to detail their need – and wouldn’t make that information potentially public, he said. Placer County is a smaller county in terms of population so the foundation hasn’t mounted a legal fight against Sheriff Ed Bonner, he said. In counties, where Calguns has acted, it has found some offices billing $400 or $500 and requiring applicants to take a training course before attempting to obtain a permit, Hoffman said. “It’s mostly a rights issue but this is also about protection,” Hoffman said.