Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has issued permits to carry concealed handguns at an unprecedented pace in the past six years. On Tuesday, he announced a series of policies that could result in his office issuing them even faster.
“It has been difficult to process as many applications each month as we receive,” Jones said in a written statement to The Bee. “This creates an untenable backlog that can get worse over time. This new system will hopefully eliminate that backlog.”
When Jones ran for office, he promised to approve many more concealed carry handgun permits than his predecessors. He delivered, raising the total number of permits held in Sacramento County from about 350 in 2010 to about 8,000 today.
Applications for concealed weapons have risen so quickly that Jones’ office has struggled at times to keep up.
Earlier this year, the department scheduled nearly 600 permit interviews in a single month. That amounted to 30 appointments per business day, many spaced just 10 minutes apart. Those interviews allow Sheriff’s Department employees to vet applicants face to face and make sure giving them a concealed carry permit won’t endanger public safety.
The new policies streamline the process for obtaining concealed weapons permits. They require applicants to fill out application forms online instead of visiting the sheriff’s office. New applicants must still come to the sheriff’s office for an interview, but permit renewals will be handled completely online and will no longer require an in-person meeting.
Gun owners will also be able to identify five weapons on their concealed carry permit, up from three. That could reduce paperwork and staff time devoted to modifying permits.
The new rules will likely be fully implemented by January, the Sheriff’s Department said.
While reducing a persistent backlog would allow applicants to get their permits faster, Jones said he doesn’t “anticipate these changes having any effect on the number of applicants or permits approved. These changes simply make the process less onerous.” He also said in his statement that “the standard for approval, and the steps required, have not changed at all. All of the same training, demonstrated proficiency ... are exactly the same.”
Jones declined an interview request, instead issuing the written statement.
The Sacramento County sheriff’s policy of rapidly issuing concealed carry permits is controversial. He maintains that letting law-abiding citizens carry concealed weapons protects the public and frightens criminals. Critics counter that issuing thousands of the permits puts the public at risk.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that carrying a CCW makes the person carrying the weapon safer or their community safer,” said Dr. Bill Durston, president of Americans Against Gun Violence.
A Bee analysis earlier this year found that at least 78 people with Jones-issued permits were subsequently arrested and had their permits revoked. The arrests represented a tiny portion of the county’s 8,000 permit holders.
Permit holders were arrested for crimes at a rate far below the general public. But 14 permit holders were arrested on felony charges, including a charge of attempted murder involving a firearm and a charge of peddling automatic weapons and poison over the internet.
“Anything that makes getting a concealed weapon easier endangers the community,” said Durston, who lives in the Sacramento area.
Allison Anderman, a staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, said she is concerned that the new rules will weaken Jones’ ability to weed out applicants who should not get permits.
“If there are changes to that policy to allow people to carry guns in secret with less oversight, we think that comes with more risk to the public,” Anderman said.
Jones has repeatedly said that his office thoroughly vets permit applicants.
“I’ve taken more than 400 guns out of the hands of criminals over this past year,” the sheriff said on KFBK on Tuesday morning. “I’m far more worried about those folks than I am the folks that have demonstrated a willingness to go through the appropriate channels.”
Studies on the risks and rewards of concealed weapons have come to opposing conclusions.
A 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that “individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession.” But a comprehensive 2004 study by the National Research Council, a private nonprofit institute that is among the most respected scientific bodies in America, said “there is no credible evidence that ‘right-to-carry’ laws, which allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns, either decrease or increase violent crime.”
Currently, about one out of every 135 adults in Sacramento County has a license to carry. Sacramento County had the third-highest number of concealed carry permit holders in California at the end of 2015, behind Fresno and Orange counties, according to California Department of Justice data.
CCW permit applicants in Sacramento County must fill out a 13-page questionnaire about criminal and mental health history. They are also required to meet with a deputy sheriff, undergo a state criminal background check and complete a 16-hour course on firearms safety, usually taught by private instructors.
Gun-rights advocates hailed the changes announced Tuesday.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said obtaining a concealed carry permit is a lengthy, time-consuming and frustrating process due to the backlog at the Sheriff’s Department.
“We’re pretty happy,” Paredes said. “We know that it has been taking months and months to get CCWs processed.”
In his statement, Jones noted that some political leaders criticized him this year for spending too much money on approving concealed carry permits. The new rules, he said, should cut costs.
“I tasked staff with reaching out to other agencies to look for ways we could improve our process to get it closer to being cost-neutral,” he said.