Orange County Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously endorsed Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' plan to speed up consideration of permits to carry concealed weapons.
Given a recent decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that has seemingly struck down a longstanding legal precedent requiring stringent good-cause requirements for a gun permit, Hutchens has moved to aggressively implement a new standard.
The decision is being challenged and could change.
In the interim, no other sheriff in the state has moved so quickly to implement the new legal standard for concealed weapons permits.
Ironically, Hutchens, who will stand for reelection later this year, ran into a torrent of opposition when she was first appointed to office in 2008 and significantly tightened standards for approval of gun permits.
"If you want more guns and CCWs [concealed weapon permits], then you should vote for one of my opponents," Hutchens said in 2010 at a candidates’ forum organized by the Orange County Young Republicans.
Hutchens would go on to win handily with 52 percent of the vote against two opponents, who each garnered about 20 percent.
At the time, Hutchens responded to a series of newspaper exposes on the nexus between weapons permits and campaign contributions to former Sheriff Mike Carona by tightening the policy and bringing it in line with policies found in Los Angeles County.
Carona, who was adored by the gun rights community for his CCW policies, was indicted in 2008 on corruption charges that also highlighted the link between CCW permits and contributions.
Hutchens’ more restrictive CCW policies drew significant opposition at the time from a majority of county supervisors, who held three separate hearings on the issue.
At one point, SWAT officers were called out to one of the meetings because of the intensity of protests from the gun rights community.
At the time, Hutchens defended her actions saying she would support and implement state law.
On Tuesday, she stood in front of county supervisors and said the same standard applies today.
“My position has always been that I will follow the law,” said Hutchens.
Today’s Hutchens is much better received at the dais.
“When we have a backlog, where people are legally entitled to have a consideration because of the lack of for-cause, I do believe it’s incumbent upon us to process those applications in a timely manner,” said County Supervisor Todd Spitzer. “People should not have to wait a year to have their application considered.”
On Tuesday, Supervisor John Moorlach, who first asked about the issue last month, thanked Hutchens for her proactive approach to the issue.
While Moorlach was opposed to her 2008 gun permit policy, he was a staunch and key supporter on the board of supervisors at the time. Supervisors Chris Norby and Janet Nguyen were Hutchens’ most vocal opponents.
On Tuesday, Hutchens told supervisors the department would shift 15 retired employees already working under contract to conduct concealed weapons permit background investigations.
Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson, who usually protests the use of retired workers, was supportive and told his colleagues that Hutchens already had budgetary authority through the end of the fiscal year in June to speed up consideration of permits.
At last count, permit applications were nearing 1,000, but Hutchens told supervisors she expected “that will level out at some point.”
Her advice to permit seekers seemed simple: It will be easier to do a renewal than to start at square one for those applying.
Despite being inundated, Hutchens told supervisors she saw gun permits as a service, “just like our job to do civil process.”
She said the department would work diligently to move a backlog forward.
“We do want to be diligent,” Hutchens said. “We want to make sure we are giving them to people who don’t have a criminal record, mental issues.”