Gun rights advocates just received a glorious St. Valentine’s Day gift: Peruta v. County of San Diego (9th Cir. 2014).
California is one of a small number of American states where issuance of a concealed weapon permit is entirely at the discretion of the sheriff or police chief. In some counties, permits are available to almost any resident with a clean criminal record and no mental illness history. Unfortunately, in many of the counties that have substantial violent crime problems (Los Angeles, San Diego, the entire Bay Area) and thus where carrying a gun is a darn good idea, sheriffs and police chiefs abuse their discretion on issuing permits in outrageous ways. The Peruta suit was an attempt at fixing this problem — and the resulting decision looks like it will indeed fix it.
The abuse of the issuance process in California varies quite a bit from county to county. In some counties, there is a very strong overlap between those with concealed carry permits, and those who made big contributions to the last sheriff’s election campaign. This is one of the reasons that news organizations in California have done a lot of suing over the years to keep concealed weapon permit information as public records.
When I lived in Sonoma County in the 1980s, it was not necessary to be a big contributor to get a permit, but it certainly helped. There was an embarrassing situation that developed where a big contributor to the sheriff’s campaign received a permit even before the background check was complete, and over the strong objections of some of the deputies who had knowledge of the contributor’s character. It turned out the contributor had a felony conviction — for child molestation. (A friend who was a deputy sheriff was not surprised; he had warned the sheriff that the inside of the contributor’s home was decorated with pictures of naked little boys.) Eventually, the sheriff lost his re-election bid, although not for this reason.
In other counties, permits are not issued unless you can demonstrate that you have a higher than average risk of attack. This usually means that you run a business that involves transporting large quantities of cash or other valuables (such as a jeweler, or a merchant in a cash-rich business), or have been the victim of a serious attack and the attacker is still free.
Self-defense alone was not a sufficient reason; this is what the Peruta decision has overturned.
Until 1967, California allowed open carry of a firearm in cities. That year, the Black Panthers demonstrated the great political acumen for which they were known by walking into the California legislature heavily armed while they were debating a bill to ban open carry. (Yes, the bill was aimed specifically at the Black Panthers.) This caused the bill’s immediate passage over the objections of conservatives, and its signing by Governor Ronald Reagan.