There were 226 fewer people this year with concealed-weapon permits issued by Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates than just four years ago, according to documents the sheriff provided Thursday to The Times.
The decline from 501 permits in 1983 to 275 permits in 1987 came during a period in which Gates faced lawsuits seeking disclosure of permit holders' identities.
"We . . . know some individuals have turned in their permits as the result of the courts making this information public," sheriff's Lt. Richard J. Olson said. "They did not want their names known for having weapons or being in a particular type of business."
But one Gates critic, private investigator Preston Guillory, said Thursday that the list of permit holders has dwindled because Gates wants to appear to be more selective as a defense in a pending lawsuit.
In a federal lawsuit filed in 1978, Guillory alleged that Gates discriminated when denying him a concealed-weapon permit.
Guillory accused Gates of granting permits to his friends and political cronies.
Of the 275 gun permits for 1987, 257 remain active. Many of the current permit holders are judges, district attorneys, reserve peace officers and others involved in law enforcement, according to the documents released Thursday. Permit holders also include business men and women who cite a need for a concealed weapon as protection when transporting cash or valuables.
Among the more notable current permit holders are former state Sen. Dennis Carpenter of Newport Beach, the county's lobbyist in Sacramento; Stephen Ray Knott, general partner of Knott's Berry Farm; and David Perrin, a restaurant owner who in 1975 entered into a partnership with Gates to open an Irvine singles bar. Gates' involvement in that venture ended after news stories pointed out that as a law enforcement official, Gates is barred from ownership of a liquor license.
Knott and Perrin are also among 31 Gates campaign contributors who held gun permits during 1987. Among the 501 permit holders in 1983, 42 contributed to Gates' campaigns.
Carpenter, who Thursday said he may also have contributed nominal sums to Gates' political campaigns, noted that he originally was awarded a gun permit by Gates' predecessor, James A. Musick.
"I don't think everybody should have one, and I'm glad everyone doesn't," Carpenter said. "I have it for personal protection, and I teach some people to shoot, and I am a former FBI agent and proficient in the use of firearms."
Under state law, chiefs of police and county sheriffs have almost total discretion under the state Penal Code to issue permits to anyone deemed "of good moral character" whom they also determine to have "good cause" for carrying a concealed weapon.
In Orange County, virtually all permits are issued by the sheriff's office.
Gun permits must be renewed annually and can be canceled, revoked or denied if the need for the permit no longer exists, Olson said.
In June, in connection with a lawsuit filed against Gates by CBS Inc., Superior Court Judge Robert Polis ordered the release of 501 gun permits that existed in 1983. The state Supreme Court ruled in the CBS case that the permits are public records and must be provided upon request.
The separate Guillory lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles is pending, and no trial date has been set.
Guillory said that when he filed his lawsuit, there were 900 gun permits issued by the Sheriff's Department.
"We have been drawing a graph since 1978 and seen the sheriff's numbers come down every single year since," Guillory said. "It indicates to me the sheriff is getting ready for trial."
Guillory asserted that Gates has become more selective in granting and renewing permits to appear to have only "a handful of heavy-weight, extremely valid" permit holders when trial begins, probably next year.
"But what the court will look at is not so much who has gun permits today but what was the situation back in 1978, when I filed the lawsuit," Guillory said.
Gates could not be reached for comment, but Olson said the only considerations in granting gun permits are the Penal Code standards.
Olson said the number of permits has "varied over the years, depending on the needs shown by the individuals. And the needs change."
Of the 257 current active permits, 128 are held by judges, district attorneys, reserve peace officers and other law-enforcement-related figures. Another 62 are held by business owners or employees. There are also 29 doctors and dentists holding active permits and generally citing the need for protection because they sometimes transport drugs.
Another 25 permit holders noted that they needed to carry concealed weapons because of their jobs in the private security field.