Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens received $1.5 million from the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to help process a flood of applications for concealed weapons permits, though she didn’t believe it would be a regular annual request.
She said the initial enthusiasm expressed by applicants who want to obtain permits under new, looser guidelines, required her office to add 15 people to answer phones and conduct interviews for the process. She said the backlog was extending into 2015.
“I’m hoping we can get a lot done with this staff,” she said.
Hutchens request to the county came on the heels of a Feb. 13 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that declared the guidelines used by Hutchens and other sheriffs in California’s urban counties were unconstitutional.
After that ruling, Hutchens eased the guidelines to allow applicants to only indicate a need for a permit for personal safety or self-defense.
Her decision has thrust Hutchens into the spotlight. Orange County is the only urban county in California to relax concealed weapon rules since the Feb. 13 decision, and Hutchens is sticking to the new rules even though the 9th Circuit has issued a stay on its ruling.
In an interview with the Register Tuesday, she talked about the ruling and the department’s policy shift.
Q: Did you agree with the 2-1 appeals court ruling that said the previous standard of “good cause” before issuing a concealed weapon permit violated a person’s constitutional right to bear arms?
A: It’s not a matter of whether I agreed with them or not because my opinion to me isn’t important. What is important to me is what the law says. They decided that there was a right to bear arms outside the home, or a place of business… And they felt that requiring good case was unconstitutional. That’s the decision, and that’s the decision I decided to follow since it’s the law to date.
Q: The court ruling didn’t compel you to change your previous “good cause” guidelines and neighboring county sheriffs – including the subject of the court case, San Diego County and Los Angeles County – have not broadened the opportunity for more applications. Why did you choose to do that?
A: I conferred with county counsel about that. And I also felt very strongly that when I came into office, and was going to review some of the applications that had been given by the prior sheriff, there was quite a disturbance about that… There was misperception that, gee, ‘She’s not going to issue CCWs, or is against CCWs.’ (But) that’s not the case. I just wanted to make sure we were following the existing law, which talked about having good cause. …
It wasn’t a matter of opinion with me; it’s a question of what the law is. … I felt it important to go ahead and start accepting applications and processing them under those new guidelines.
Q: Are you surprised your neighboring sheriffs haven’t followed suit?
A: I can’t say I’m surprised. But I could not have predicted what they might do because I think people have different thoughts about it. … Sheriffs have had differences of opinion or different polices (about) carrying concealed weapons.
I think you can see a distinct difference between urban areas and rural areas… In a rural area, where there is a high crime rate, there are sheriffs – and I would be one of them – who are more inclined to say ‘That’s good cause, and I’m going to let you have a gun to carry because there is an extended police response, and there is a lot of crime here.’ (But) in the urban areas, you’ll generally see (fewer permits) because it’s a high density population and faster police response. Those kinds of things enter into the thinking.
Q: What public safety concerns do you have with allowing a broader pool of applicants seeking to get a concealed-weapons permit? Or, on the other side, what is the upside for having a broader pool of applicants seeking to obtain a concealed-weapons permit?
A: We don’t have problems, to my knowledge, with our CCW carriers. But we vet the people we give them to. We do background (checks), check with neighbors, and we make sure they’re not a hothead or anything, or have mental illness, that kind of thing.
Because we vet them, that’s a reason why we don’t have issues with them.
Does it reduce crime because there are lots of people with CCWs out there? There are studies cited all the time. But, again, we haven’t had a lot of CCWs in Orange County, and we have a low crime rate. … I can’t say definitively that a community where a lot of people carry concealed weapons has any impact on crime or not.
Q: Have you had any pressure brought upon you by gun rights groups, or from opponents to changing the policy? And has the NRA been involved at any level?
A: No, actually nobody has called me on either side of the equation. I didn’t get a call from anybody from the NRA or anybody from the Brady folks who are opposed to having weapons out there. I can say nobody called me or asked me to do anything.
Q: Your office had previously said that if a stay had been issued, you’d go back to the policy of good cause. And yet you’ve continued to adhere to the new policy. Why not change it back to the way it was before?
A: When we said a ‘stay,’ we meant if the court had said we’re going to stay this decision, meaning vacate this decision. They didn’t do that. What they did say is they issued a stay of the mandate to the lower district court. It’s not ordering the district court to do anything, and they didn’t withdraw their opinion. Had they withdrawn their opinion, that would’ve been different, but they didn’t. … So the existing law is still there
Q: If it’s vacated, you’d go back to the prior protocol?
A: I’d have to see what it says. I’d have to see what the terminology says. They could come up with any number of things. I’m not going to speculate on what that could be because I don’t know what that will look like. I think it will take some time for them to sort through it. They can do whatever they want — they’re the 9th Circuit — but I don’t think this will be decided quickly.
Staff Writer Michael Reicher contributed to this report.
BY DAVID MONTERO / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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