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"The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun." -- Patrick Henry (More Quotes)

Sheriff cracking down on gun permits

Two officials arrested in DUI cases lose authorization to carry concealed weapons.

By Christina Jewett and Andrew Mcintosh - cjewett@sacbee.com

Published 12:00 am PST Monday, January 14, 2008
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A1

Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness has revoked concealed weapon permits of a gubernatorial appointee and a state parole official while also vowing to overhaul permit record keeping, both in the wake of a Bee investigation.

The Bee reported that at least 30 of the 550 people issued local carry permits from 1996 to 2007 had records of criminal convictions – and at least seven had failed to disclose them in their concealed weapon applications. Most of those permits were granted by McGinness' predecessor, former Sheriff Lou Blanas.

McGinness said he revoked the permit of Julie Motamedi, whom Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and one of the permit holders profiled in The Bee's story.

Motamedi was arrested Sept. 1, 2005, on suspicion of drunken driving and cited by a California Highway Patrol officer for having a gun with her in the car. Under Sheriff's Department policy, drinking alcohol while carrying a loaded gun invalidates the permit.

The Sacramento District Attorney's Office chose not to file the gun charge and Motamedi pleaded no contest to the DUI charge in 2005.

McGinness said he had not previously known about the incident and subsequently sent Motamedi – who had held a concealed weapon permit since 1999 – a letter revoking her permit. He also said he plans to more rigorously screen permit renewal requests, required every two years. No section of the current renewal form asks for details about intervening arrests.

Motamedi said late in December that she was not angry about the sheriff's decision.

"I don't mind losing the permit because I injured a finger a few years ago," she said, making it harder for her to fire a gun.

Motamedi has resigned from her position as chair of the TRPA governing board but did not return calls seeking comment about that resignation.

McGinness also revoked the permit of Robert T. "Bobby" Rodriguez, the state Board of Parole Hearing's associate chief deputy commissioner, who was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Merced.

Merced police said Rodriguez's blood alcohol level at the time of the November arrest was 0.16 – twice the legal limit.

Rodriguez, reached at his Elk Grove home, declined to comment.

McGinness said he canceled both permits because the holders displayed questionable judgment.

"Generally, a DUI conviction on your record should be presumed to be a disqualifier," for a concealed gun permit, he said.

The Sheriff's Department can allow people to carry a loaded gun if they have "good moral character" and prove they have "good cause" for needing a gun, according to state law. But the state grants leeway to local law enforcement in determining which applicants fit those definitions.

Despite that, The Bee's investigation found a number of questionable calls, including permits granted for such needs as carrying a lot of money or wearing expensive jewelry. A bounty hunter received a concealed weapon permit even though he had been accused of domestic violence and had been subject to a temporary restraining order – although he was never convicted of a crime.

A federal lawsuit that the county so far has spent nearly $180,000 defending accuses former Sheriff Blanas of favoring campaign contributors who apply for permits.

The Bee's review found that Blanas had issued a concealed weapon permit to a campaign contributor who bought a vacation home with him and to a couple who contributed cash and liquor to his campaigns, who were allowed to complete their gun training at the department's officer-only range.

Blanas has declined to comment – his attorney says he cannot because of the pending legal action – but in sworn statements he firmly denied the allegations.

The Bee found that among people granted permits to carry a loaded gun, more than 70 past and current permit holders collectively contributed at least $200,000 to Blanas' campaigns. Past and current permit holders, it reported, contributed $25,000 to McGinness' campaign for the office he took over in July 2006.

California permit holders are subject to a criminal records check by the state Department of Justice, screening out anyone convicted of any of a long list of felonies or other violent or gun-related misdemeanors. None of the Sacramento permit holders cited by The Bee had been convicted of a listed offense.

However, the state urges law enforcement agencies to go beyond those checks in determining moral character and good cause. McGinness said that some of The Bee's findings – including people with multiple drunken driving convictions – raised questions about his department's own screening process.

The sheriff said he has established veto power over permit decisions, typically made by a committee of high-ranking deputies.

"I think the result of this will probably be a better system as it relates to (concealed weapon permit) standards and issuance," McGinness said.

Permit records need to be overhauled, he said, adding that he is considering a computerized data system funded with permit application fees.

While The Bee's concealed gun permit story revealed some irregularities in the system locally, it also drew questions from readers about statewide policies.

California is one of 11 states where police chiefs or sheriffs "may issue" concealed weapon permits to applicants who do not fall in certain categories, such as mental instability or drug addiction.

In 37 other states, legislators have ruled that law enforcement "shall issue" the permits to anyone who meets qualifications.

John Fields, executive director of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, said the 60,000-member organization favors standardizing practices across the state.

"We think it's absurd that in California the law differs so dramatically county by county," Fields said.

According to Department of Justice records, eight people held concealed gun permits in San Francisco County in 2006, while 4,006 held them in Kern County.

Giving local law enforcement discretion is crucial, countered Brian Malte, director of state legislation for the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence.

"We feel local law enforcement officials know best what's best for public safety in their jurisdiction," Malte said.

In the mid-90s, Isleton Police Chief Eugene Byrd began issuing permits to anyone who could pass the background check and pay the application fee – until the attorney general stopped him.

In essence Byrd created a "shall issue" enclave, which UC Davis Medical Center researchers used to examine how the approach might look in California.

Tracking 691 people who got permits in Isleton for three years, the researchers found their arrest rate for violent crimes nearly three times that of a control group of statewide applicants.

The Isleton sample was too small for concrete conclusions. But Garen Wintemute, director of the Center for Violence Prevention Research at the medical center, said it hints that guns in a "shall issue" state might land in the wrong hands.

About the writer:

·         Call The Bee's Christina Jewett, (916) 321-1201.

 

>> Part One





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