SLO County seeing more applicants for concealed gun permits

San Luis Obispo County is changing the way it issues conceal-to-carry gun permits due to a recent ruling in a federal appeals case, and the county is already experiencing an uptick in applicants for the permits that allow a person to carry a registered firearm in public.

San Luis Obispo Undersheriff Tim Olivas said the new policy will not change who gets to carry weapons — those who applied and were not eligible for a permit before most likely will be denied again — but simply who makes the decision.

Since 2006, the Sheriff’s Office has processed all applications for permits in unincorporated areas of the county as well as in the cities of San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and Atascadero. Other cities in the county traditionally have processed their own.

But due to an anticipated increase in workload and the possibility of lawsuits, all cities will now handle their own permit applications. The Sheriff’s Office will continue to process applications from residents in unincorporated areas.

Should an applicant be denied a permit, they can still appeal a city’s decision to the Sheriff’s Office.

Olivas said Thursday there are currently 571 active permits in the county. He said the county has already witnessed an increase in applications, with 48 new and renewed permits filed between Jan. 1 and Feb. 26.

That compares to 239 applications in 2014, 305 applications in 2013 and 171 in 2012 from residents in unincorporated areas as well as Morro Bay, Atascadero and San Luis Obispo.

The numbers don’t reflect applications that were denied.

According to Olivas, applicants must pass a background check, attend training sessions, provide three letters of reference, pay a $200 application fee and submit a letter detailing the need to carry a weapon.

Permits must be renewed every two years.

The recent ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Peruta v. County of San Diego, essentially held that a responsible, law-abiding citizen has a right under the Second Amendment to carry a firearm in public for self-defense.

The federal case came after a challenge to San Diego County’s policy requiring a permit applicant to provide documentation of good cause for needing a concealed weapon. A lower district court ruled that concern for one’s personal safety alone was not sufficient cause to seek a concealed weapons permit.

That decision was appealed to a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel, which in February 2014, ruled that San Diego’s good cause policy infringed on residents’ Second Amendment right to bear arms for self-defense.

That interpretation has caused ripples in local governments across the state, which are now dealing with more applications for concealed weapon permits.

The ruling stands today despite legal maneuvering by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was not a party in the Peruta case and who has requested the case be heard again by an 11-judge panel.

San Luis Obispo County Counsel director Rita Neal said Wednesday that the ruling has caused a lot of discussion among local governments about the workload from what’s expected to be a flurry of permit applications, as well as the risk of lawsuits from applicants who are denied.

“The Peruta case has the potential to increase the number of applications that are made for concealed weapons and the determination by the Sheriff or a police chief of whether to issue a permit must be carefully analyzed so that the law is being properly interpreted and followed,” Neal wrote in an email to The Tribune.

Neal said the county’s decision to no longer handle applications from the three cities is an administrative measure; the increased staff time to process, evaluate and issue a ruling on permits can be costly.

However, the county also shares liability from potential litigants since applicants denied a permit by a city may appeal to the Sheriff’s Office. If the Sheriff’s Office upholds the city’s decision and the applicant sues, both the city and county could be named in a lawsuit, several city and county administrators said.

On Tuesday, Atascadero became the first city in the county to officially prepare for the increased workload. The City Council unanimously approved an amendment to its annual budget to city fees to prepare for the added staff time and cost — enough to account for an estimated 50 applications this year.

“Our partners at the Sheriff’s Department have really helped us historically, but due to the cumbersome (permitting) process, they will not process these requests any longer for our department or any other municipality,” Atascadero police Cmdr. Joe Allen said in an email. “We do not blame the Sheriff’s Department for withdrawing this service, rather we thank them for administering it for so long.”

The San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay city councils have not made similar budget changes yet.