Orange County has been deluged with more than 1,000 concealed weapons applications since rolling back gun restrictions in the wake of an appellate court ruling, and officials are preparing to hire more than a dozen retired deputies to handle the crush.
Under a proposal that comes before county supervisors Tuesday, the Orange County Sheriff's Department would hire 15 retired employees to handle the applications, which have flooded in since the court ruling a little more than two weeks ago.
The volume is nearly double what the department normally handles in an entire year, and if all or most of the 1,000 applications are approved, it would effectively double the number of people permitted to carry concealed weapons in Orange County.
The pro-gun ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would affect every county in the state, but Orange County was among the first to eliminate the requirement that residents who wanted to carry a concealed weapon must show they had a specific, individualized need to do so.
Ventura County has also signaled that it will loosen its restriction. Other jurisdictions — such as Los Angeles County — have decided to wait to see if the ruling is appealed.
State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Thursday announced that her office planned to appeal if San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore did not. Gore was named as the defendant in the original case.
Still, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens told supervisors last week that her department plans to follow the law as it now exists, though she said applicants are being encouraged to submit a statement of "good cause" given the uncertainties.
"Regardless of what her personal positions are, she feels she needs to abide by what the law is," department spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock explained after the county decided to roll back the restrictions.
Though Orange County is perceived as being law and order, Hutchens had previously reined in the number of concealed weapons permits she granted after her predecessor — now-imprisoned former Sheriff Mike Carona — was accused of handing them out as political favors.
At least one county supervisor, Todd Spitzer, has called on county staff to explore options for expediting the permit approvals to help gun owners take advantage of the current policy.
"Let's say there was a majority of the board who was sympathetic to the expeditious processing of these permits," Spitzer asked Hutchens last week. "Could we approve additional personnel to help you process these permits as quickly as possible?"
"We are in budget discussions," Hutchens replied. "I'd be happy to consider it."
In a staff report that the board is expected to consider this week, the department would have to hire 15 people to clear the paperwork. The report recommends hiring retired deputies. By taking this approach, the department would avoid having to conduct time-consuming background checks required for new employees.
How much the extra staff time will cost is still unknown, the report says.
Hallock said the hundreds of applications have been overwhelming. In 2013, the department processed about 540 concealed weapon permits.
"Obviously, we're inundated," he said.
Typically, one person processes the applications, Hallock said. At that staffing level, it would probably take a year to process the applications that have come in, he said Monday. Normally, it takes about three months for an application to be processed.
Last year, he said, about 20% of the permit applications were denied.