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Editorial: Concealed weapons permits — a compelling case for reform

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When it comes to controlling concealed weapon permits, California’s system is badly broken.

That was made distressingly clear in our special report last Saturday by reporter Kris Anderson, who pointed out that while permits are passed out like candy in some counties and cities, they are held tightly in others.

The result is a crazy quilt. For example, someone who obtains a permit in Alpine County can take a concealed weapon into a restaurant in San Francisco, where virtually no permits are issued.

Does this make any sense?

There is no continuity — no logic — to the current setup. And fixing it will be no simple task.

This is a jumble of money and politics, with a trigger attached.

Yet the need for reform is clear.

Consider:

  • A legislative study some years ago showed that many of those with gun permits had made campaign contributions to their local sheriff. So gun permits become, in some cases, a payoff for a financial contribution. That’s legalized corruption.
  • In some counties, such as Sacramento, the sheriff has adopted a very lenient policy of issuing permits, but lacks the budget and resources to process the permits in the timely fashion.
  • In other counties, such as San Francisco, there is, for all practical purposes, a “shall not issue” standard, so permits are simply not handed out.
  • The late police chief of Isleton made headlines by passing out permits to nearly anyone drawing breath, in part to help shore up the town’s finances. Is that a good reason to give someone the right to carry a concealed weapon into Walmart or Denny’s?
  • There are dozens of agencies in California with the power to issue permits, and each has its own standards and criteria.

This isn’t a system. It’s chaos.

Just to be clear, you don’t need a permit to have a weapon in the privacy of your own home. But you do if you are traveling in a car, or walking a public street, or inside a public building. Those who seek permits often handle money or jewelry or other valuables. Or they may carry legal drugs.

In many jurisdictions, a rigorous set of standards is imposed before a permit is issued. A psychological test may be required, along with firearms safety and training.

In other jurisdictions, all that’s required is the standard criminal background check. So if you aren’t a felon, you can pack heat at your favorite movie theater.

There are few issues as polarizing as gun ownership, and that extends to the granting of concealed weapons permits. Some advocates contend the Second Amendment should be construed to mean that anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon should be allowed to do so, no questions asked. That is currently the case in a few mainly very rural states, such as Alaska.

Then there are anti-gun types who don’t see any need for concealed weapons. That mentality prevails in San Francisco, with a population of 700,000, which has issued exactly two concealed weapons permits.

Is there any middle ground? Can’t we provide some semblance to uniformity here? In Oregon, permits are issued only by counties, and those counties work hard at establishing and abiding by common standards.

Surely there must be a way to grant permits to those who have legitimate reason to carry them, while culling those who don’t.

And surely there is a way to extract some the local politics out of this, so the issuance of a permit doesn’t depend on a chief or a sheriff’s druthers, budget priorities, or willingness to scratch the back of a campaign donor.

Creating a more coherent approach will take some resolve and compromise. It will demand the involvement of many stakeholders, and the careful examination of varied options.

In our recent special report, we highlighted several lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Kristin Olson, who believe the status quo can and should be improved. Perhaps she can reach out to other area lawmakers, such as Dr. Richard Pan, to launch the exploration to higher, better ground.