California Sheriff Draws Legal Fire For Way She Hands Out CCW Permits

With few exceptions (the great city of Fresno comes to mind) it’s nearly impossible for the average, law-abiding Californian to obtain a concealed carry permit.

In fact, even former law enforcement officers have a difficult time exercising what many believe is a fundamental right, i.e. the right to carry a firearm for self-defense outside the home.

Take, for instance, former police officer and sheriff’s deputy Tom Scocca.  He applied for his CCW permit in Santa Clara County three years ago.  But he was turned down by County Sheriff Laurie Smith despite his obvious credentials.

In addition to his law enforcement background, Scocca owned an investigative firm and was licensed to openly carry a firearm.  He now works as the director of global investigations at a major Silicon Valley tech firm.

sherriff laurie smithWhy did Sheriff Laurie Smith decline Scocca request for a CCW permit?

Well, the answer seems to be: simply because she can.  See, due the fact that California is a “May-Issue” state, the decision of who gets a CCW permit falls to the sole discretion of the police chief or country sheriff, in this case Sheriff Smith.

But this fact has not stopped Scocca from filing a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Smith, which alleges that she issues CCW permits in an “arbitrary and capricious way.”

“California law says she has the right to say no,” said the 53-year-old. But “the 14th Amendment demands everyone be treated equally. When she has issued to people who are similarly situated to me, then she is not complying with the totality of the law.”

In looking at the facts and examining the 49 people in the county that have a valid CCW permit it’s clear that Scocca has a point.

For one thing, while she has issued CCW permits to people who are similarly situated to Scocca, she has also issued CCW permits to people who are arguably less qualified to own a firearm than Mr. Scocca.  In other words, they don’t have a law enforcement background.

Another point is that she has given CCW permits to individuals who are not primary residents of Santa Clara county.  People like Bart Dorsa, the grandson of the Eggo frozen-waffle inventor Frank Dorsa Sr., who lives in Moscow and Stephen Bechtel Jr., the chairman emeritus of San-Francisco-based Bechtel, who lives in San Francisco.

California state law requires that permit holders be “a resident of the county or a city” where the permits are issued.

And lastly, of those 49 people with CCW permits, 13 have donated money, at one time or another, to the Sheriff’s campaign to run for office.

santa clara county sherriffWhen asked if there was preferential treatment or favoritism on behalf of the Sheriff’s office, Deputy County Counsel Cheryl Stevens wrote in an email to the Mercury News that, “We do not maintain that information or consider that information when the sheriff approves the permit.”

Many permit holders, Stevens continued in the email, had applied for permits long before Smith was first elected, and they have been renewed “because they continue to meet” the requirements.

In response to this flat out denial of preferential treatment, Scocca raised the obvious question.

“There’s no quid pro quo?” he said. “You can’t help but wonder.”

We’ll keep you updated as this lawsuit progresses.  It’ll be interesting to see how Sheriff Smith defends her inconsistent, if not unfair, treatment of CCW applicants.

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