Number of Gun Permits Up in Orange County


In a shift that troubles gun control supporters and divides police chiefs, Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona has forged ahead with a promise to ease restrictions on concealed weapon permits, boosting the number of licenses by more than half over the last year.

As of early December, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department had signed off on 482 concealed weapon permits, according to figures released Monday. That compares with 308 at the end of last year, when Sheriff Brad Gates was still in office.

Carona vowed in last year’s election campaign to reverse what he called Gates’ overly restrictive policies on permits, liberalizing the rules so that people who transport large sums of money or other valuables more easily could qualify for the licenses.


Some police officials, noting that Carona also has rejected many permit applications, said they feel comfortable with his policy. But some gun control supporters and law enforcement leaders criticized Carona’s approach and expressed worry about increasing the number of concealed weapons on the streets.

“One of the main reasons that I’m concerned is that the police officers and sheriff’s deputies . . . are now more apt to run into armed people than ever before,” said Costa Mesa Police Chief David L. Snowden. “The police officer doesn’t have a crystal ball. He doesn’t know whether the people armed in a car are good guys or bad guys.”

Gun enthusiasts, however, applauded the increase in permits. Allowing people to arm themselves, they argued, will act as a deterrent to violent criminals.

Hayden Heal, a representative of the National Rifle Assn. and a consultant to Carona on the issue, said he hopes the number of permits continues to surge.

“It’s a good first step,” Heal said. “After three or four years with 1,000 people walking around the county with that deterrent, we will continue to see violent crime in the county go down.”

Despite the recent increase, Orange County continues to trail San Diego County and San Bernardino County in the number of permits issued. San Diego County, with about the same population, has issued 1,500. San Bernardino County, which has about half as many residents, has about 2,200 license holders. In Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca has issued only 480 permits, far fewer per capita than neighboring counties.


Carona’s position has run against the tide of recent support for gun control among law enforcement leaders--including Baca and Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks--in the wake of several high-profile shootings this year.

Carona was unavailable for comment Monday. But in past interviews, the sheriff has called criticism of his stance unfounded. He has promised to grant permits only to those who can show that they have no criminal record, will undergo 16 hours of firearms training, and can give a good reason for needing a weapon.

“I’m not advocating more guns on the street,” he said earlier. “Generally the people who apply for [permits] already own guns and they are just asking to carry them. . . . These are law-abiding citizens. They don’t go out and commit random acts of violence.”

With a permit, a person is legally allowed to carry a revolver or a semiautomatic handgun under the clothing or in a purse or bag. A review of some of the 240 new applications approved since January shows that the county’s new permit holders come from a range of backgrounds and had a variety of reasons for their requests.

One Costa Mesa diamond dealer, who had an application rejected 20 years ago, said he needed a gun to protect himself from armed robbers. A private security guard from Anaheim said he has been shot on duty and needed a gun permit to prevent another attack.

And a Huntington Beach woman said she needed a permit for protection from a stalker who has broken into her home several times.


Carona’s position on the concealed weapons once worried many police chiefs, some of whom warned that relaxing restrictions on permits might lead to illegal shootings.

Such concerns have prompted at least three police agencies that in the past let the Sheriff’s Department handle concealed weapons requests exclusively within their cities to change their policies. Now the agencies review such applications themselves, though residents in their cities can still apply for a permit directly to the sheriff.

But some of those police chiefs said the latest figures inspire confidence in Carona’s policy. While the number of approvals has jumped, so has the number of denials. Since January, the department has rejected 319 of a record 877 applications.

Among those rejected was an application from Pastor Wiley Drake, the outspoken Buena Park advocate of the homeless who said he needed protection from some of the people he tries to help.

Those denials suggest that the sheriff has maintained strict criteria for the permits, said Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, who was among the chiefs who had expressed anxiety about Carona’s policy.

“I’m glad that they seem to be denying a lot of them,” said Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters. “It looks like a strict policy.”


But the high number of rejections offered little comfort to Mary Leigh Blek, chairwoman of the Orange County Citizens for the Prevention of Gun Violence, who has opposed issuing more concealed weapons licenses.

“Every gun out there that is loaded and concealed is a threat to public safety,” Blek said.