For several months now, the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office has been investigating allegations that Laurie Smith, the Santa Clara County sheriff, has been engaged in the corrupt practice of granting concealed carry licenses to those who fork over cash for her campaign coffers.
The San Jose Mercury News has done a solid job of reporting on the ongoing investigation, and their latest report is a doozy. According to some recently released records from the sheriff’s office, it sure looks like Sheriff Smith and her staff have a policy that “favors those with power and influence”, as the paper puts it.
Those records showed that among the permit recipients was Martin Nielsen, a security executive with Seattle-based AS Solution, whose clients include Facebook’s top executives. Campaign finance records show that Nielsen made a single $45,000 donation in October 2018 to an independent expenditure committee backing Sheriff Laurie Smith’s bid for a sixth term as sheriff. Nielsen was granted a permit in March.
Multiple sources have confirmed that donation — the only one Nielsen has ever made to support Smith — was one of the primary catalysts of the DA probe. To date, warrants related to the investigation have been served to Undersheriff Rick Sung, the second-ranking commander in the agency behind Smith, as well as one captain and two sergeants with the sheriff’s office, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.
This wasn’t the only concealed carry approval raising eyebrows. The Mercury News reports that four Apple employees who provide “executive protection” also received their concealed carry licenses after two Apple executives made donations to Smith’s re-election bid in 2018.
According to the Mercury News, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office has been less than forthcoming in releasing public documents requested by the paper under the Freedom of Information Act, but based on the information available, it sure looks like those who had the cash to contribute to the sheriff’s election campaigns got a boost in the efforts to obtain a coveted concealed carry license, which are rarely granted in Santa Clara County.
As a result, many questions remain about how the sheriff’s office decides who is granted a concealed-carry permit in the county and who does not. More than half of approximately 150 CCW permits issued or renewed in Santa Clara County since 2014 are for civilians, for which California sheriffs have full authority to issue permits as they see fit, based on the apparently fluid requirement of showing “good cause.” That discretionary power explains widely varying numbers of permit approvals between counties; for example, Sacramento County, which is similarly sized as Santa Clara County and exercises the same permitting authority, has more than 5,000 active permits.
The easiest way to end the corruption that may be taking place in Santa Clara and other county sheriff’s offices is to remove their discretionary ability to deny a concealed carry license based on “good cause.” If the state of California would adopt a “shall issue” system that requires the issuance of a concealed carry applicant who meets the training requirements and passes a background check, it would immediately end the possibility of graft and corruption in the concealed carry permitting process.
Of course it would also lead to a huge surge in the number of concealed carry license holders in the state, which is probably the biggest reason why Governor Gavin Newsom and anti-gun lawmakers would never back such a change. Instead, they’ll continue to embrace a policy that fosters corruption and places more importance on the personal safety and political connections of the 1% than the constitutional rights of the rest of us.