Faster gun permits in Sacramento County aren’t worth the risk

Sheriff Scott Jones talks to The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board in October.
Sheriff Scott Jones talks to The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board in October. lsterling@sacbee.com

Unincorporated south Sacramento is still reeling from a wave of armed robberies targeting Asians. At last count, 42 people had been murdered this year in the sheriff’s jurisdiction, five more than in 2015.

Sheriff Scott Jones has a lot on his plate now that voters have decided to keep him in his current job rather than send him to Congress to replace Rep. Ami Bera.

So why start by hastening the flow of concealed weapons onto Sacramento County’s streets?

This week, Jones announced short cuts to speed the processing of applications for permits to carry concealed handguns. Among other efficiencies, he plans to increase to five the number of weapons that can be permitted on a single application and to allow people renewing permits to skip an in-person law enforcement interview.

The aim, he said in a written statement to The Bee’s Philip Reese and Nashelly Chavez, is to get rid of a massive application backlog and to save on the cost of administration, which outstripped fee revenue this year by some $240,000.

The last five years have been a veritable gun-a-pa-looza for the minority who are afraid to leave home without a full holster. Why rush more concealed weapons onto Sacramento County streets?

Jones promised to make concealed carry permits easier to get, and he has more than delivered: Since he became sheriff in 2010, permits to carry hidden guns have soared from about 350 that year to about 8,000 at last count.

No one likes red tape or red ink, and earlier this year, Jones drew criticism from some on the Board of Supervisors, and from this page, for dipping into his county appropriation to cover the cost of his ramped-up permitting. Raising fees isn’t an option because Sacramento County’s are already the maximum allowable by state law.

But the last five years have been a veritable gun-a-pa-looza for the minority of county residents who are afraid to leave home without a full holster. Only two other sheriffs in California – those in Fresno and Orange counties – issue more concealed carry permits than Jones does.

One out of every 135 adults here now has a license to pack heat, and Jones’ permissiveness on guns seems only to have fueled the craving. At one point earlier this year, the department scheduled nearly 600 permit interviews in a single month, or 30 appointments per business day.

Jones ran on the dubious gun-rights adage that more law-abiding people with guns make the streets safer. But his policy, while popular with his base, has hardly been a crime-stopper. And every “efficiency” in oversight, like every gun, adds to the risk that another person will accidentally or intentionally be hurt or killed.

It seems dicey to allow five firearms on a single permit, and to let gun owners renew without even a once-over from law enforcement. And just how much money will Jones save with his new system? The sheriff’s declined to say in his statement, and his media office, reached later, had nothing to add.

Critics of Jones’ permissiveness on guns, such as Supervisor Phil Serna and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, have questioned the need to make such a priority of the county’s concealed carry program. In an interview with a Bee editorial board member, Serna noted that every dollar that goes toward issuing gun permits is a dollar less for detectives and deputies.

McCarty carried legislation in 2016 that would have allowed counties to charge the full cost of issuing concealed carry permits. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. In 2017, McCarty intends to ask the Bureau of State Audits to review whether the fee structure is sufficient and whether sheriffs’ standards for granting permits are appropriate. McCarty is wise to gather facts before proposing new legislation.

Jones is a smart politician. His handgun approach, while highly questionable by urban California standards, is tame compared to policies in some red states, where concealed carry permits are handed out virtually for the asking, and are rarely revoked.

Some past studies suggest “right to carry laws” at best have no impact on violent crime and may raise the odds of injury to gun owners. The question warrants further research. But Sacramento County has more pressing priorities than the wait list for hidden handguns.