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Tighter policy on concealed weapons in O.C.

Permit applicants must prove they face safety threat, agree to tests.

August 12, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens on Monday released a policy that could lead to the revocation of dozens, if not hundreds, of concealed-weapons permits issued by former Sheriff Michael S. Carona.

Hutchens' new policy requires that to get a concealed-firearm permit, applicants must prove there is a legitimate threat to their safety and agree to undergo possible psychological, polygraph or medical testing.

When she took office two months ago, Hutchens inherited the responsibility of overseeing about 1,100 concealed-weapons permits that Carona had issued. Many of the holders were businessmen, doctors, lawyers and dentists. Several were financial contributors to Carona's campaigns.

Capt. Dave Nighswonger, who is overseeing the review, said sheriff's investigators would send letters to those in jeopardy of losing their permits and give them an opportunity to explain why they need to carry a concealed weapon. The first letters could go out in about two weeks, he said.

In California, sheriffs and police chiefs have broad discretion to issue gun permits to the public; the number issued varies widely from county to county. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has issued fewer than 400 concealed-weapon permits.

The permits allow the holder to carry concealed weapons in public places. Gun owners don't need the permits to keep weapons at their homes.

Hutchens' new policy states that anyone with a previous felony conviction or a misdemeanor conviction involving violence will be ineligible for a weapons permit. In addition, anyone with a misdemeanor conviction of any kind within the previous five years will be denied a permit.

"The good-cause threshold you have to meet has gone up," Nighswonger said. "The prior sheriff had more of a right-to-carry philosophy. Some of the things that were considered good cause won't be now."

The first order of business for Nighswonger's staff will be to review pending applications and renewals to see if the applicants are eligible for permits. Once those decisions are made, investigators will look at the 1,100 active permits, probably starting in alphabetical order, he said.

"We don't see the numbers dropping to a few hundred, but there will be some who don't apply and some who have their permits denied or revoked," Nighswonger said.

In a letter to the public posted on the department's blog, Hutchens explained that she will issue the permits "to persons of good and upstanding character who possess credible, significant and substantiated cause to fear for their safety."

Licenses "will not be issued for political, social or other reasons," she wrote.

She cautioned that firearms should be used as a last resort and said anyone who misuses a weapon in public faces revocation of their permit and possible criminal prosecution.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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