LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva made what seemed to be a big announcement about the issuance of concealed carry permits in his jurisdiction during a Facebook live broadcast Wednesday. Fox LA’s Bill Melugin tweeted the news:
NEW: In a live stream just now, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he expects to begin increasing the amount of concealed carry permits he issues by as much as 400%. CCWs are notoriously difficult to obtain in LA. @FOXLA
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) June 24, 2020
Concealed carry permits, as Melugin said, are notoriously difficult to obtain in Los Angeles County. Villanueva’s predecessor (and current federal prison resident) Lee Baca, issued permits almost exclusively to donors and friends, a 2013 expose found, resulting in only 341 people holding permits in Los Angeles County at that time. By 2017, a report by the California State Auditor found that only 197 people in the county, which has a population of 10.2 million, possessed concealed carry permits.* That number increased to 424 by July 1, 2018, five months before Villanueva took office.
In light of the coronavirus lockdowns, Black Lives Matter riots, and the state of emergency declared in Los Angeles County, gun sales have skyrocketed. People report hours-long lines to get into gun stores and shortages. Understandably, many of these new gun owners are also interested in obtaining a concealed carry permit, and are dumbfounded when they find out they’re nearly impossible to obtain.
So, in his Facebook live session, Villanueva had this to say in response to questions from viewers about the issuance of concealed carry permits:
“We’re increasing the approval rate on these and it’s probably going to go up about 400 percent roughly. So if you have good cause, you think you have it, please submit it, go through the process, and we’ve actually increased some of our staffing to accommodate that.
“But remember, good cause is not shall issue. That’s a different – different philosophical board there.”
Increasing the approval rate by 400 percent sounds awesome until you remember how few permit holders there are in the county. It’s unclear whether Villanueva is saying that by the end of the year there will be 400 percent more concealed carry permit holders in LA County, or that he will approve 400 percent more applications in 2020 than he did in 2019. Assuming he approved applications at the same rate they were approved from 2018 to 2019, that means approximately 1000 applications will be approved this year. Either way, it’s not that a significant number.
Then we have Villanueva’s reference to the “good cause” requirement, which is much more stringent in Los Angeles County than in other counties. California’s concealed carry statute simply states that issuing agencies need to find that “good cause exists for the issuance of the license” but doesn’t define good cause. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s CCW issuance policy defines “good cause” as:
“[C]onvincing evidence of a clear and present danger to life or of great bodily harm to the applicant, his spouse or dependent child, which cannot be adequately dealt with by existing law enforcement resources and which danger cannot be reasonably avoided by alternative measures, and which danger would be significantly mitigated by the applicant’s carrying of a concealed firearm.”
And LASD procedure also states:
“No Concealed Weapon License should be granted merely for the personal convenience of the applicant. No position or job classification in itself should constitute good cause for the issuance or denial of a license. Each application shall be individually reviewed for cause.”
California’s standardized CCW permit application gives some guidance on how an applicant can demonstrate good cause:
“If the CCW license is desired for self-protection, the protection of others, or for the protection of large sums of money or valuable property, you are required to explain and provide good cause for issuance of the license. For example, has your life or property been threatened or jeopardized? Explain incidents and include dates, times, locations, and names of police agencies to which these incidents were reported.”
But, how is a private citizen supposed to demonstrate that the danger they face cannot be adequately dealt with by existing law enforcement resources? Perhaps that’s why fewer than 500 permits have been issued in the county.
Back to Villanueva’s virtual townhall meeting. Another viewer asked him to clarify and expand upon his prior comments. Villanueva replied:
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to make the system user friendly, and if you’re eligible to receive it because you’ve established good cause we don’t want to interfere with that process. So we devoted a few more people to go through the applications and we’re trying to facilitate and speed it up so you have an answer quicker than before.”
Well, that’s not quite the message Los Angeles County residents were hoping for. Essentially he’s saying that they’ve added more staff to process applications and make the system “user friendly,” whatever that means with a California government agency, without saying there will be any change in his department’s impossible “good cause” standard.
Los Angeles County residents should put Villanueva and the “Nordstrom customer service” philosophy he says he’s instituted in the department (yes, he really said that) to the test and apply for concealed carry permits en masse and document everything. Let’s see what this new and improved process really means.
(*Note: LAPD issues CCW permits for residents of the City of Los Angeles. LASD issues CCW permits for residents of unincorporated areas and certain municipalities within the county. This piece was edited to include updated numbers.)