RIVERSIDE – The head of several pro-gun organizations today threatened legal action against Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff over an alleged policy of arbitrarily withholding concealed weapons permits, which the sheriff denied, pointing to evidence that he’s always been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights.
Brandon Combs, who runs the Calguns Foundation and the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, announced the ”Fix-Riverside Initiative,” aimed at spurring Sniff to loosen up the issuance of concealed gun licenses in the wake of a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in February.
The 2-1 ruling found that ”self-defense” was a sufficient reason for a sheriff or police chief to issue a concealed firearm permit to a law-abiding citizen.
”Sheriff Sniff appears to have violated the civil rights of his constituents the entire time he’s been in office,” Combs said. ”It’s long past time that he learned how to read and follow the Constitution.”
Combs, joined by sheriff’s Lt. Chad Bianco, who opposed Sniff in the June 3 election, accused the sheriff of ignoring the federal court ruling in Peruta v. County of San Diego, in which the majority sided with the plaintiffs in their challenge to the county’s ”good cause” standard.
The standard is operative not only in San Diego County, but throughout the state, where residents can apply for concealed gun permits, but are not entitled to them. Applicants must be vetted and undergo firearms certification training.
The Ninth Circuit decision stated that the ”good cause” standard abridged ”constitutionally protected conduct” and was too arbitrary based on the Second Amendment principle that the ”right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
The judges also cited recent U.S. Supreme Court findings in support of their decision, which has been stayed until a challenge to the ruling by California Attorney General Kamala Harris is resolved.
Temecula attorney Jason Davis, representing the Calguns Foundation, said Sniff’s ”policy and practices … appear to be the same” as those invalidated by the federal court.
Davis and Combs suggested Sniff was picking and choosing which applicants should receive a gun permit, without regard to fairness or constitutional guarantees.
However, Sniff told City News Service that he is following the law and doing his best to accommodate constituents.
”We approve 98 percent of concealed-carry permits. That’s a pretty impressive approval rate,” Sniff said. ”Not every single person who submits an application is going to be issued a permit, but it is still our responsibility to vet people very carefully.”
Around 1,100 residents countywide — not including law enforcement — are currently licensed to carry firearms, according to the sheriff.
”The Ninth Circuit decision is not the law at this point because it’s under appeal,” Sniff said. ”For now, leaving the issuance of concealed-carry permits to the discretion of local police chiefs and sheriffs is the law in California.”
Sniff said he could relate to the frustration of Second Amendment advocates who want California to be a ”shall-issue” state, as opposed to a ”may-issue” state, where self-defense is not accepted as the sole criterion for approving a permit.
”California is a very anti-gun state,” Sniff said. ”I’m not sure the idea of ‘shall-issue’ is ever going to wash here.”
Thirty-nine states have ”shall-issue” laws, allowing any citizen who passes a criminal background check and a brief firearms training course to obtain a concealed-carry permit.
According to Combs, the Fix-Riverside Initiative will concentrate on building a coalition with the goal of pressuring Sniff to relax the vetting process in the interest of issuing more permits to law-abiding residents. However, if changes aren’t made to the groups’ satisfaction, a lawsuit will be the next step.
”As infuriating as it is, we’re probably going to have to take the sheriff to court (because of) … a woefully low issuance rate,” Combs said.
Sniff said he’ll continue to adhere to the law, regardless of pressure tactics. The sheriff said any notion that he’s ”anti-gun” conflicts with reality, noting a recent ”A+” rating from the California Rifle & Pistol Association and a history of challenging onerous gun restrictions, including confiscatory measures proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.
More information on Fix-Riverside can be found at www.fixriverside.org .
The sheriff’s gun policies are here: http://www.riversidesheriff.org/firearms/