California Sheriff Under Investigation For 'Pay To Play' Concealed Carry Permits

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith is now facing an investigation into whether her office has been issuing concealed carry licenses in exchange for campaign donations, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Prosecutors in Santa Clara County have served at least three search warrants while investigating whether Sheriff Laurie Smith’s office gave out coveted concealed-gun permits in exchange for campaign money, sources familiar with the investigation told The Chronicle.

The Santa Clara County district attorney’s office raided the sheriff’s San Jose headquarters Aug. 2, seizing evidence through a search warrant that remains sealed. About a week before that, sources said, prosecutors served search warrants on two of the sheriff’s higher-ranking supervisors.

The Bay-area county is home to nearly 2-million residents, but only 113 of them have concealed carry licenses, according to the California Department of Justice. Self-defense isn’t seen as a good enough reason to obtain a license from Sheriff Smith’s office, but the allegations are that campaign donations are seen as “good cause” in Santa Clara.

But sources confirmed that the investigation involves an alleged “quid pro quo” between donors to six-term Sheriff Laurie Smith’s election efforts and people who have obtained concealed-carry weapons permits from her office, which has been relatively stingy about issuing the privilege compared to neighboring counties.

The sources also said that the probe, while publicly surfacing over the past few days, had been in the works far longer and that it is focused on some of Smith’s trusted advisers in the agency.

As the San Jose Mercury News notes, this isn’t the first time Sheriff Smith has come under scrutiny for the concealed carry permitting process in her county. In 2011, the sheriff was sued over the issuance of concealed carry permits, and it was revealed that some of the few individuals who had received a license lived outside of the county, and even outside of the country. Now, at least 4 of the 113 individuals who are licensed to carry by the Santa Clara Sheriff have donated to her campaign, and there could be others.

The issue has long been a source of criticism for the Sheriff’s Office, and it has dogged Smith every time she has run for re-election in the last decade. Residents over the years have complained about the permitting process and said that the permits appeared to be reserved for high-profile people and VIP types.

That was the case for Chris Long, a 30-year-old county resident who said he never heard back from the agency when he applied for a CCW permit in 2013, and learned that other applicants similarly got no response. In January, he decided to doggedly pursue the process and chronicle his experience in a post on the online platform Medium. His application was eventually denied, more than six months after he first applied.

Chris Long did some digging via open records requests, and discovered that many permit holders didn’t have to articulate any particularly “good cause” to renew their permits and were able to claim they needed a CHL for “family defense” or similarly vague reasons, while other applicants like himself were seemingly rejected out of hand despite offering up similar needs for a permit.

This is another example of why discretionary, or “may issue” concealed carry policies are a bad idea. They’re ripe for abuse, as we’ve seen in New York City and elsewhere. I personally don’t think you should have to have a license to exercise your right to bear arms, but at least “shall issue” licensing policies remove the ability of corrupt public servants to dole out permits in exchange for cash and prizes.