The line was long. The waiting room was full. So I sat and waited.
I have been following 2nd Amendment constitutional law for many years and reporting my observations in this journal from time to time. I wrote about the liberalizing effects of decades of pro-gun lobbying, mostly by the NRA, but those effects were hardly felt in the states most hostile to gun rights.
Then in 2008, in the Heller decision, the Supreme Court made it clear that the 2nd Amendment grants rights to individuals and not just to militias. A series of important cases followed. Heller and the cases it engendered apply, of course, to all the states, including the half dozen or so that used to have a strict licensing regime and required the applicant to have a “special need” to carry a firearm. In the populous counties of California, in one of which I live, the state used the special-need requirement to deny permits to most applicants. That requirement is now constitutionally dead.
The old rules required extensive documentation of special need and residency and character. The tone was hostile. Short of a lawsuit, there was no way to appeal a denial.
I decided to apply for a concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit. In San Diego, you have to wait more than six months just for an appointment to apply. Once I got to the sheriff’s headquarters, the process went better than I expected. I arrived early and expected to wait for hours. Fifteen minutes later, they called me for my interview.
I had gone through this before, under the old rules. It required extensive documentation of special need and residency and character. The tone was hostile. Short of a lawsuit, there was no way to appeal a denial. Applicants reported that denials were discriminatory or at best arbitrary. Most people who wanted licenses in San Diego didn’t even try. I got my permit, but I had to reapply every two years, so once I retired and lost my “special need,” I too gave up.
Over the years (having held a CCW permit for almost two decades), I got to know the typical successful applicants. They were judges and retired judges, church leaders who handled large cash donations, special forces soldiers, and laundromat operators who also handled a lot of cash. As far as I know, “I live in a dangerous neighborhood” or “I have been mugged three times this year” were never once accepted as special needs.
What a difference now! The waiting room was filled with every kind of person. It looked like a slightly more prosperous demographic than at, say, the DMV, but maybe that’s because they dressed up for the occasion. They surely weren’t just judges, pastors, and Navy SEALs.
As far as I know, “I live in a dangerous neighborhood” or “I have been mugged three times this year” were never once accepted as special needs.
The sheriff’s deputy asked for my driver’s license. We had a brief, friendly chat (not required) during which he said, “We need more people like you with permits to carry.” Then he sent me back for photographs and fingerprinting. They did those things promptly, efficiently, cheerfully. As I left, I felt that something was missing, some sort of frustration, some price to pay in the form of bureaucratically induced pain, and in the form of cash.
But so far, it seems that the worst inconvenience will be a consequence of the great flood of applications. The sheriff has outsourced the background check and says it will take about six months. However, I will then have to get in line for an expensive day-long safety course. Finally I will pay a licensing fee and, I expect, get my new license to carry concealed, for some period of time, as yet unknown.
I don’t know what the scope of the license will be. It will likely be limited in various ways — times, places, and circumstances.
I do know that the governor of California and most of its legislators are hostile to this liberalization of gun rights. But I think they are not clever enough to adopt the practice best designed to discourage carrying a gun in public. That would be to issue licenses only for open carry and completely prohibiting concealed carry. As I wrote in an earlier reflection, “Most people, including most experts, tacitly assume that the Bruen [Supreme Court] case is about concealed carry. It is not. Neither the Constitution nor the Court speaks specifically about a right to carry a concealed weapon. The right to bear arms does not necessarily include the right to conceal a weapon.” And, because of social pressure and fear, few people would want to carry openly in the big cities and suburbs of California.
In six months or so, I will give you an update. Meanwhile, if you want to carry a gun, get in line.