Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens speaks to county supervisors in 2013. (Photo by Nick Gerda/Voice of OC) Credit: Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

What a difference one and half terms makes.

When Sandra Hutchens took over as Sheriff from Mike Carona in 2008, she immediately triggered a fierce backlash from gun rights advocates with her public statements that approvals for concealed weapons permits would be tightened.

And they were.

At the time, Hutchens — who was a high-ranking member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department before coming to Orange County — privately took issue with the perceived nexus between campaign contributions and CCW permits under Carona and ushered in a much more restrictive approval process — even at one point targeting the gun permit of OC power broker Mike Schroeder.

Yet today Hutchens is expected to address members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors on her plans to speed concealed weapons approvals in the wake of a controversial decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a 2-1 decision last month, the panel ruled that restrictions in Orange and other counties violate the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms because they forced citizens to show a specific need for protections before granting a concealed weapon permit.

While Hutchen’s position is basically the same as 2008 — supporting state law — this time she enjoys the support of a majority of the Board of Supervisors.

“She is committed to abiding by the law, regardless of her personal feelings,” said Sheriff Department spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock.

Hallock said the department is considering more than 700 applications for concealed weapons permits since the judicial panel seemingly struck down a “good cause” standard that has faced severe criticism in California, because it yields such different results between rural and urban counties on gun permits.

While Hutchens, who is facing reelection this year, may have surprised observers who now question how fast she is moving on the issue, her supporters say it goes back to what she said in 2008: She would support the law of the land on gun permits.

“She wants to demonstrate her respect for the opinion of the court,” Hallock said.

Yet the main question facing Hutchens and applicants is that the law is still in flux. With California Attorney General Kamala Harris challenging the judicial decision, there is the possibility that the CCW opening could close.

“If and when that opinion is withdrawn, the sheriff will revisit the issue,” Hallock said.

Orange County Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson, himself a CCW holder and avid gun rights supporter, said he supports easing restrictions and staffing up with temporary staff to process applications.

Nelson said he met with Hutchens Monday and discussed the issue.

“If the law’s going to allow it, we’re going to aggressively ramp up,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he is supportive of Sheriff’s Department plans to potentially hire “extra help,” which in government circles usually means hiring recent retirees.

While Nelson has in the past opposed hiring retirees, it looks as if the technique might work for temporary hikes in gun permits.

“If it was up to me, we’d get these things out in a hurry,” Nelson added.

While critics may see that kind of speed as bad policy, Nelson said Orange County is friendly to gun rights.

“I’m not lacking in understanding, but I can read English,” Nelson said. “And I can read the Constitution. … It clearly says the right to keep and right to bear arms will not be infringed … same as freedom of speech.”

Yet Nelson, a former civil trial attorney, said the big challenge is how long will it last.

“Our challenge is we have this question mark if this will remain the law or whether it will be the law for two weeks.”

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