San Diego Case Shows How CA Gun Laws Fuel Corruption

(AP Photo/AJ Mast, File)

There are a lot of things to complain about when it comes to California’s screwy gun control laws, but a criminal case out of San Diego is highlighting the two-tiered system for gun ownership in the state. Marco Garmo, a now-former captain with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, just received a two-year prison sentence for running a gun trafficking operation out of a sheriff’s department substation he supervised. Garmo specifically bought firearms that are only available to police in California, before turning around and selling them for both profit and to curry favor.


In addition to receiving cash for the firearms, federal prosecutors say that over the course of nearly six years, Garmo conducted the gun sales to create goodwill among potential donors for his planned campaign to run for San Diego County sheriff.

Garmo made a series of “straw purchases,” in which he told gun dealers he was purchasing guns for himself, when in reality he was buying them for people who could not directly buy the firearms under state law. He acquired around 144 firearms during that time and transferred 98 of them to others, all while lacking the required license to do so, according to prosecutors.

Garmo pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license. He retired shortly before he and four others — including another San Diego County sheriff’s deputy — were indicted.

Garmo, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t accused of selling any of the guns to prohibited persons. Rather, he broke California law by selling prohibited guns to people who, according to the state, possessed their full Second Amendment rights but were forbidden from owning these guns. What type of guns are we talking about? In most cases, handguns that are in common use in other states.

One of the oddities of California law is that it only allows for handguns to be sold in the state if California’s Department of Justice has placed them on the Roster of Certified Handguns, and since the state’s microstamping law went into effect nearly a decade ago, no new models of handguns have been allowed to be sold in the state.. unless you’re in law enforcement. Police are allowed to purchase “off-roster” handguns, and Garmo and his associates were buying (and selling) a lot of them, because law enforcement officers are also not subject to the state’s one-gun-a-month rationing law.


U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel called the sentencing “tragic,” as he detailed how Garmo was led to law enforcement as a way to serve and protect the underprivileged, but lost his way. Curiel described how a young Garmo was impacted by an attack on his father, who was robbed at gunpoint and pistol-whipped by assailants at his family’s El Cajon business in the 1970s.

The attack led him to join the sheriff’s department, but Curiel said that despite Garmo’s contributions as a law enforcement officer, “You lost sight of your duty to follow the law.”

The judge said an “arrogance surfaced” in the defendant, who started to “carve out favors” for friends and came to believe “this idea that you can violate the law and receive preferential treatment.”

To be fair, police in California do receive preferential treatment, and because of that some officers will undoubtably abuse the special status given to them to ignore the state’s gun control laws. Garmo’s case also demonstrates how the state’s gun laws foster corruption in another way by giving law enforcement the authority to approve or deny a carry license to individuals based on their own subjective standards. The sheriff’s office in Santa Clara County has been embroiled in a bribery scandal involving cash and gifts in exchange for carry licenses, and prosecutors claim that Garmo was also gaming the system in San Diego County.


Firearms dealer Giovanni Tilotta and El Cajon resident Waiel Anton are awaiting trial…

Tilotta, owner of Honey Badger Firearms, is accused of aiding Garmo by submitting falsified firearms records and selling firearms, including inside Garmo’s captain’s office at the Rancho San Diego station on occasions. Hamel also admitted to working with Tilotta to create falsified records and that his arrangement with Garmo came with the understanding that Hamel would support Garmo’s sheriff campaign.

Anton is accused of helping Garmo’s customers apply for concealed carry permits as part of a “consulting” business, which allowed the customers to circumvent the CCW applicant backlog. He’s also accused of repeatedly insisting that one of his customers — whom he was unaware was an undercover agent — lie to federal investigators after Anton’s home was searched.

There are two easy changes to California gun laws that legislators in Sacramento should make; if not for the Second Amendment rights of residents then to reduce the opportunities for corruption created by their gun control laws.

First, get rid of the Roster of Certified Handguns. Forget trying to impose microstamping standards on every handgun sold in the state. It’s impossible for manufacturers to comply with, and the technology poses no impediment to criminals, who can easily deface the microstamp in just a few minutes. Californians should be able to purchase a Sig P365 or a CZ P-10 without having to go through the police academy. California’s microstamping law is a slow-motion gun ban, but it also fosters a culture of corruption in law enforcement, who know they can make an easy buck with an illegal gun sale or two.


Second, scrap the state’s subjective-issue permitting standards for concealed carry and adopt a shall-issue system instead. If you meet the statutory requirements, you get your license. Individuals shouldn’t have to justify their reasons for wanting to exercise a constitutionally-protected right before doing so, and the possibilities for bribery and abuse of the system are painfully apparent, given that they’re currently playing out in several courthouses across the state. Yep, gun control advocates would be very unhappy about the millions of Californians who would apply for and receive their concealed carry license, but that’s a poor excuse to keep a system in place that erodes the rule of law (and turns rights into privileges in the process).

Of course none of that absolves Marco Garmo for his own actions. Since Democrats are keen on tackling root causes of issues, however, we can’t just stop with Garmo’s prison sentence. We need to address the fundamental problems in California’s gun control regime that fuel the kind of corruption that Garmo and others engage in.


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