California's Concealed Carry Laws Enable Graft And Corruption

With the Supreme Court’s refusal to consider legal challenges to the concealed carry laws in New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts, anti-gun politicians in the handful of states that still have “good cause” or “justifiable need” requirements for concealed carry permits are breathing a sigh of relief. For now, anyway, the Court won’t take a look at these laws and whether or not they violate the constitutional right of residents to bear arms in self-defense. That’s a particularly disappointing decision by the Court, because not only are countless Americans being denied their right to bear arms, the discretionary issuance of concealed carry permits is also enabling graft and corruption among licensing authorities themselves.

On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, we take a look at what’s been happening in Santa Clara County, California, where Sheriff Laurie Smith’s office has been under investigation by the county District Attorney for almost a year now amidst allegations of a “pay-to-play” scheme where campaign contributions to the sheriff’s re-election efforts have substantially increased the odds of receiving a concealed carry permit.

NBC Bay Area recently did an investigation of their own into the sheriff’s office, and found some pretty strong evidence that the allegations of corruption may have merit. According to the news station, only a handful of concealed carry applications have been approved in recent years, and many of those who received a rare permit to carry had coughed up some serious cash for Sheriff Smith’s campaigns.

Permits to carry a concealed weapon [CCW] can be difficult to obtain in Santa Clara County, as they are in most of the Bay Area. Between 2014 and 2018, 749 Santa Clara County residents applied for a new CCW permit, according to records provided by the Sheriff’s Department. Only 62 applicants received a permit, according to the records.

Most of those applicants did not donate to the Sheriff’s political campaign over that time period. Fewer than 6% of those non-donors were awarded a concealed gun permit, according to Sheriff’s office records and publicly available campaign contribution data.

The non-donor approval rate plummets even further for applicants who most would consider “average citizens.” Among the 40 non-donors to be granted concealed gun permits between 2014 and 2018 are three sitting judges, two current members of the San Jose Sharks hockey team, at least one employee of the sheriff’s office, and five people who appear to be Santa Clara County reserve deputies.

But the approval rate skyrockets for the 28 applicants who either gave campaign cash to Sheriff Laurie Smith directly or where a family member or employer donated.

Smith’s office granted concealed gun permits to 22 of those 28 applicants, an approval rate of about 79%.

Donors accounted for fewer than 4% of all CCW applicants over that time period, but constituted about 35% of those awarded permits, according to the records.

Those statistics by themselves aren’t proof of pay-to-play taking place, but NBC Bay Area also spoke with several locals, including a member of law enforcement, who make it clear that a campaign contribution can be very helpful in receiving a concealed carry permit.

South Bay gun owners who spoke to NBC Bay Area, including a sheriff’s deputy who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the pay-to-play allegations against the Sheriff have persisted for years and are almost an open secret.

Mark Hinkle, who lives at the end of a two-mile dirt in a remote part of the county, owns guns for personal protection, he said. The small business owner often carries cash and said he worries about being robbed while away from his property. But Hinkle said he didn’t bother applying for a concealed gun permit after speaking to several sheriff’s deputies about what it would take to get one.

“Every one of them said, ‘Well, if you make a substantial contribution to Sheriff Smith’s re-election campaign, you’ll improve your chances.’ And of course, I don’t want to do that,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle said NBC Bay Area’s findings concerned him.

“To me, that’s corruption,” Hinkle said. “And I’m not going to participate in corruption of government officials.”

Perhaps the District Attorney in Santa Clara County will ultimately determine that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the sheriff and senior staff, but at the very least there’s certainly the appearance of impropriety here, and that’s undoubtably eroded confidence in the sheriff’s office among some in the county. Given the push to reform law enforcement, one easy way for the state to ensure accountability for sheriffs and avoid charges of discrimination or unfair practices would be to adopt a “shall issue” system of issuing concealed handgun permits, instead of enabling them to pick and choose which citizens are allowed to exercise their right to bear arms in self-defense.

Of course, with an anti-gun supermajority in the California legislature, I’m not holding my breath that the necessary reforms will happen any time soon, or without a court order. Again, it’s a travesty that the Supreme Court refused to accept any of the Second Amendment cases it was recently considering, and while we wait for the Court to eventually weigh in, there are countless Americans being deprived of their right to bear arms thanks to a system that allows for discrimination, graft, and corruption among our public officials.