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Appeal Over Gun Permits Denied : Newspapers Lose Bid to Examine Gun Holders' Permits

October 02, 1987|JANNY SCOTT | Times Staff Writer

A state court this week denied an appeal by two newspapers seeking to examine the gun permits granted by the San Diego County sheriff.

The 4th District Court of Appeal turned down a request by the San Diego Union and The Tribune to reconsider Superior Court Judge Richard Huffman's March 26 ruling allowing only limited public access to concealed-weapon permits.

The justices said there was no indication that Huffman had exceeded his jurisdiction when he called for a "name-by-name review" to determine which of the county's 2,600 permit holders were entitled to privacy to protect their personal safety.

Permit Holders 'Ecstatic'

"We're ecstatic," said Robert G. Moore, an El Cajon attorney who represented permit holders in opposing the newspapers' request. "I think the lesson to be drawn from this is that the sheriff has established a very professional screening process."

Attorneys for the newspapers could not be reached late Thursday for comment.

The Union and Tribune asked Sheriff John Duffy last year for an opportunity to look at the permit records--the papers were curious, their lawyer said, to see whether the public interest was being served by the sheriff's issuance and administration of the permits.

When Duffy failed to make the records available, the newspapers filed suit against him in December. Their attorneys cited a 1986 California Supreme Court ruling that held that such permits were covered by the state's public records law.

Huffman reviewed 226 randomly selected permits and divided them into four categories. He ruled that no information would be released on people in three of those groups--law-enforcement officials, business people and individuals who carry guns because they have been threatened.

The only information that would be released concerned people in the fourth category--people who obtained permits solely for their personal protection.

'Basic Right of Privacy'

"First of all, we felt there was a basic right of privacy," Moore said late Thursday. He went on to argue that permit holders would be more vulnerable to attack if it were widely known that they carried weapons.

Huffman contended in his ruling that the Supreme Court decision was vague. He said that, while the decision declared gun permits to be public documents, it also "tells me to balance the privacy rights of individuals."

Duffy has said in an interview that he issues permits to virtually all "law-abiding citizens who feel, whether it is true or not, that they are protecting themselves by having a concealed weapon." Duffy's office has given out substantially more gun permits than have the sheriffs or police chiefs in other urban areas of California.

When The Times obtained access to the gun permit records in November, 1983, it found that business people, television newscasters and politicians were authorized to carry concealed weapons--along with 56 of the 300 contributors to Duffy's 1982 reelection campaign.

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