CA Sheriff Gets Big Donation, Issues Rare Carry Permit

There are two ways in which a state will issue a concealed carry permit: “Shall issue” or “may issue.”

“Shall issue” means that so long as you meet the requirements for being issued a concealed carry permit, the issuing authority has to give you the permit. “May issue,” on the other hand, means that the issuing authority has absolute discretion as to who gets a permit and who doesn’t. Just qualifying isn’t enough, the issuing authority–usually the county sheriff–has to approve of you as a person he or she wants to allow to carry a firearm.

The idea behind “may issue” is that even if someone has no criminal convictions, the sheriff’s office may know them to be potentially violent and not someone responsible enough to carry a gun.

In theory.

In practice, however, “may issue” laws open the door for corruption. When someone has a say in who can get a permit and who can’t, some people are going to make offers to facilitate them getting permits. This is especially true when you’re talking about an elected official who has to campaign for office. That just makes it easier to hide the corruption.

Which may well be what happened recently in California.

A manager at an executive security firm received a concealed-weapon permit in Santa Clara County a few months after making by far the biggest single donation supporting Sheriff Laurie Smith’s 2018 re-election, newly released records show, a contribution that is a now a focal point of a corruption probe aimed at her office.

The $45,000 donation by Martin Nielsen, who is listed as the executive protection operations and executive projects manager for Seattle-based AS Solution, was made in October 2018 to the Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance, an independent-expenditure committee that backed Smith’s bid for a sixth term. He was issued a concealed-weapon permit on March 26.

Nielsen’s donation dwarfs most of the contributions made either to the committee or directly to Smith’s re-election campaign. The DA investigation first surfaced publicly after a search warrant was served Aug. 2 at the Sheriff’s Office headquarters in North San Jose. This news organization has since confirmed with sources familiar with the investigation that at least one other warrant was served on a high-ranking supervisor in Smith’s office.

That doesn’t look good, all on its own. Someone makes a big donation then gets a carry permit.

But, it could happen, right? I mean, post hoc ergo proptor hoc (“after, therefore because of”) is an informal logical fallacy. It’s suspicious, but not indicative of misbehavior.

Unless, of course, there’s a history of this sort of thing.

The CCW permit 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.

The records released Thursday show that at least 100 active permits have been issued, many of which are renewals of permits held by judges, prosecutors and reserve police officers.

Of the civilian permits currently active — they have a two-year life span before requiring a renewal evaluation — seven recipients who had permits either issued or renewed in 2019 donated to Smith’s campaign or an independent committee supporting her. In 2018, eight recipients fit that description. The donations ranged from $100 to $1,000, and it should be noted that some of the civilian permits date back decades, some even before Smith was elected sheriff.

Well, then. Isn’t that interesting.

Look, there’s a saying that power corrupts, but I’m not entirely convinced of it. Instead, I think power is sought out by the corruptible. Once those corruptible people have that power, they’ll use it however they can.

Smith, for example, is alleged to provide permits only for VIPs, including those who donate to her campaign. While these are only allegations and I don’t know Smith personally, therefore can’t really speculate on the veracity of these allegations, I can say that it wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened.

As Cam noted earlier this week when discussing other allegations against Smith:

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.

Cam also recounted how open records requests found that many of those issued those permits didn’t have to articulate specific reasons why they needed a permit. Now, I don’t think they should have to, but I also think the rules should apply universally. We don’t know whether Nielsen’s application included a specific reason he warranted a permit or not.

If it did, I’m fairly sure it didn’t say “because I wrote a big, fat check.”

However, from the outside, it sure looks that way. Not a good look for Smith or the California permitting process. Not in the least.