Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones seems to be within his rights in issuing concealed weapons permits to law-abiding county residents essentially for the asking. But taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to foot the bill for his politically popular perk, and that’s what’s happening.
State law dictates the amount that sheriffs can charge to issue concealed weapons permits, essentially $100, plus the cost of fingerprinting. The law also allows local officials to raise fees by no more than the Consumer Price Index. Sacramento County hasn’t done so, and at the very least, it should do that.
Even if the county were to take that step, the cost of issuing concealed-carry permits evidently exceeds inflation. According to Jones’ budget numbers, the staffing cost to grant permits will run about $461,000 this year. But the fees charged to permit seekers will cover less than half that, meaning that taxpayers must pick up the remainder, almost $239,000. Worse, the cost to Sacramento taxpayers more than doubled between the 2014-15 fiscal year and the current fiscal year.
The California State Sheriffs’ Association has not asked the Legislature for authority to raise the fees.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the sheriffs’ association, told an editorial board member that he has “no appetite” to make concealed-carry permits more expensive. We understand the reluctance. Sheriffs, too, must get elected.
But the Legislature could and should force the issue, especially this month as the new budget is being written. Lawmakers ought to insert language into one of the budget-related trailer bills making clear that local authorities can charge the full cost of issuing concealed-carry permits.
Under Jones, the number of permits has soared, from 350 when he took office five years ago to nearly 8,000 now, making Sacramento County home to the state’s third-largest number of concealed-carry permits, after Fresno and Orange counties.
Jones assigns one full-time deputy to the task, and as many as 10 on-call employees, depending on demand. Permit seekers pay a $20 application fee, $80 upon issuance, and $122 for fingerprinting. A combined fee of $222 hardly seems exorbitant.
Jones said in an email that issuing permits “is not a business enterprise,” and that when the department tried to make the operation cost-neutral, the “delays and backup were untenable.” But unless a gun owner is in immediate danger – and we doubt that all 8,000 of the Sacramento County residents with permits are being actively threatened – what exactly is the rush?
Jones also invokes a note of populism, saying in an email that “raising fees would have a disproportionate impact on our lower income residents.” Even if that’s true – and we’re guessing people who can afford guns and ammunition are not destitute – sheriffs could, if authorized by the Legislature, impose surcharges on wealthier gun owners to help the lower-income permit seekers.
In Sacramento County’s $3.6 billion budget, $239,000 is a blip. But as they write their new budget, supervisors should consider other uses for that $239,000. Supervisor Phil Serna, for one, has cited a need for a Spanish-speaking psychologist. Shelter providers could use $239,000 to find housing for homeless people. Jones could hire additional deputies who are well-trained in the use of firearms.
Jones defends his liberal gun permit policy, telling The Sacramento Bee’s Hudson Sangree and Phillip Reese that allowing people to carry concealed weapons empowers them “to feel like they are safer in a world that is increasingly not safe.”
We disagree. We do not feel safer now that one in every 135 Sacramento County residents has a concealed-carry permit. And we certainly don’t believe taxpayers should pay for the gun owners’ privilege.
Note: An earlier version incorrectly stated that the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department uses general tax funds to cover the cost of concealed weapons permits. Fees charged to applicants cover the costs.