In January of 2019, I decided to document my experience attempting to apply for a concealed weapons carry license (CCW) in Santa Clara County, California.
The reason I decided to document this process is that the way in which these permits are issued differ greatly from county to county and it is ultimately the choice of the Sheriff to dictate the policy. This map shows that Santa Clara county is one of the few counties listed as “virtually no issue”. No issue means that CCW permits are issued very infrequently and are highly subject to the scrutiny of the sheriff. The problem, as you’ll learn while reading this post, is that the Santa Clara County Sheriff appears to care less about the actual qualifications and justification for wanting a permit and more about the net worth of the applicant. Scocca vs. Smith is a good read on this exact type of discrimination.
It’s well known among firearm enthusiasts that applying for a CCW permit in Santa Clara is an exercise in futility. You’ll often see comments on message boards along the lines of “unless you’re a campaign donor for the Sheriff, don’t even bother”. This line of thinking is not entirely unfounded. The Mercury News published an article in 2011 investigating the connections between campaign donors and individuals who received CCW permits: https://www.mercurynews.com/2011/12/10/santa-clara-county-sheriff-draws-legal-fire-for-way-she-hands-out-concealed-gun-permits/
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office website informs visitors that they are currently working through a large backlog of applications. By means of a California Public Records Request I discovered this statement to be false or at least unfounded. In fact, the sheriff’s office is unable to provide any sort of statistics around how many applications they receive and process each year. I cover the details returned from the records in depth later in this post.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that CA penal code 26205 states that:
“The licensing authority shall give written notice to the applicant indicating if the license under this article is approved or denied. The licensing authority shall give this notice within 90 days of the initial application for a new license or a license renewal, or 30 days after receipt of the applicant’s criminal background check from the Department of Justice, whichever is later. If the license is denied, the notice shall state which requirement was not satisfied.”
It took me 195 days to receive a judgement on my application.
Legal Requirements and Qualifications
The legal requirements to obtain and apply for a CCW permit in Santa Clara County are defined in CA Penal Code 26150:
(a) When a person applies for a license to carry a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person, the sheriff of a county may issue a license to that person upon proof of all of the following:
(1) The applicant is of good moral character.
(2) Good cause exists for issuance of the license.
(3) The applicant is a resident of the county or a city within the county, or the applicant’s principal place of employment or business is in the county or a city within the county and the applicant spends a substantial period of time in that place of employment or business.
(4) The applicant has completed a course of training as described in Section 26165.
“Good cause” is relative, judged on a case by case basis, and is entirely at the discretion of the Santa Clara County Sheriff. This judgement of good cause is what allows the sheriff to deny permits to so many applicants — by telling them their justification doesn’t meet “good cause”. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against California sheriffs with the claim that applicants are being unfairly discriminated against. To my knowledge, none of these lawsuits have been successful.
- I have a clean background
- I am a resident of Santa Clara County
- I have a California Firearms Safety Certificate
- I do not use drugs and do not have a problem with alcohol
- I do not have mental health issues
- I would like to believe I am of good moral character
- I have active CCW permits for the states of Utah, Arizona, and Florida
- I have taken more than 5 full-day handgun safety, marksmanship, and manipulations training classes. This exceeds the training requirement.
- I have completed a full day of classroom and field concealed carry training
- I have taken classes related to defensive medicine (basic wound triage and first-aid)
At some point back in 2013, I sent a CCW application to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office (SCCSO) via certified mail and never heard back. In May 2017, I polled some colleagues and asked if anyone who had submitted a CCW application had ever had a follow up from the SCCSO. The response was unanimously “no”. I found this to be unacceptable, so I decided in 2019 that I would file another application with the determination to follow up on the status of my application by any legal means necessary.
On the afternoon of January 3, 2019, I drove to the SCCSO in person and delivered my application. I asked the officer on duty when I could expect someone to follow up with me and he responded that “it could easily be at least a year before someone gets back to you. These applications take a lot of time to process”. I asked if I could have some sort of receipt to prove they were in possession of my application and the officer responded that “they don’t do anything like that”. I left without any proof that the SCCSO now was in possession of my application.
At this point, I think it’s important to outline the CCW application process. The CCW application is a two-part application. You fill out the first half and the second half is to be filled out “in the presence of an official of the licensing agency”. Essentially, you submit your application and wait for the SCCSO to contact you to schedule an in-person interview where the second half of the application will be completed in the presence of your interviewer.
This two-part application process is generally where most applications come to an end. Applicants submit their applications and the SCCSO never contacts the applicant to follow up, leaving the application in a permanent state of being “incomplete”.
Determined to not allow my application to suffer the same fate, I filed a California Public Records Act Request (CPRA) requesting very specific information about the CCW application process.
The California Public Records Act Request
The CPRA is a law similar to FOIA in that it “ requires inspection or disclosure of governmental records to the public upon request, unless exempted by law”.
On January 5, 2019, I filed a CPRA request for the following information:
- Between the dates of Jan. 1 2013 and Jan. 5 2019: a (record/listing) of all Santa Clara County CCW (Concealed Carry Permit — BOF4012) applicants that contains the applicants’ name, the date their applications were submitted, the date that the applicants’ interview occurred, the date a decision was made to issue a permit or not, and the result of the decision (e.g. approved/denied/other).
- Between the dates of Jan. 1 2013 and Jan. 1, 2019: a record containing the total number of Santa Clara County CCW applicants per year and the number of applications that completed the review process by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.
- Between the dates of Jan. 1, 2013 and Jan. 1, 2019: a full copy of each Santa Clara County CCW permit application that resulted in a permit being issued to the applicant. (BOF 4012)
- Any records pertaining to the current backlog of Santa Clara County CCW permit application review.
- Any records pertaining to the current schedule of Santa Clara County CCW permit interviews. “Interview” in this context refers to sections 6,7 and 8 of the CCW permit application that states “Sections 6, 7, and 8 must be completed in the presence of an official of the licensing agency.”
On January 17, I received a notice from the Sheriff’s department that they would be exercising their right to extend the CPRA deadline by 14 days to Feb. 2, 2019.
On Febuary 16, I emailed the CPRA@prc.sccgov.org email alias and explained that I was still awaiting follow up on my CPRA request and that it was now two weeks past the Feb. 2 deadline outlined in the notice sent to me on Jan 17.
On March 1, I received the results of my CPRA request:
- “The Sheriff’s dept has no records that are responsive to #1, #2, #4, or #5 from my CPRA request.”
- “The Sheriff’s dept will be releasing 133 pages of CCW applications from individuals whose CCW applications were accepted and were issued a permit.”
- The sheriff’s department will begin reviewing my CCW application and I should fill out section 7 of the application, which normally needs to be done in the presence of an official of the licensing agency
At this point, it’s crucial to emphasize the first bullet point.
The SCCSO has no records containing information about:
- How many applications they receive per year
- How many applications exist on the backlog (or if a backlog even exists)
- Any future scheduled interviews for CCW applications
A summary of individuals who have had CCW permits issued is listed in the image below. I have redacted their names for privacy reasons. The “Delta” field is the number of days between the date the application was filed and the date that the proficiency test was taken. Negative values indicate that past proficiency tests may have been allowed for CCW license renewals.
While some of the applicants have solid justification for applying for a CCW, you’ll notice some of these individuals have sparse “good cause” statements and yet were issued permits in less than 5 days from the day that their applications were submitted.
Based on the data (or lack of data) returned from the CPRA request, I drew the following conclusions:
- The SCCSO does not follow up on any submitted CCW applications except in “special” circumstances. It would appear that government employees and high ranking company executives receive some sort of priority or preferential treatment.
- The SCCSO does not keep a record of how many applications are submitted and does not keep a record when a new application is received
- Despite what the SCCSO website says about a large backlog of applications, they were unable to produce any records pertaining to a backlog or interview schedule. I believe the backlog is a falsehood fabricated to conceal the lack of application processing and follow up.
I have not done any analysis around which of these individuals have donated to Laurie Smith’s political campaign. If you are interested in undertaking this analysis, please contact me at the address listed at the bottom of this post.
Application Follow Up
Determined not to let my application go ignored, I began emailing the officer who responded to my CPRA request and asking for status updates with regards to my application. Since he had asked me to fill out section 7 of the application, it seemed implied that they would be reviewing it in the near future. The timeline of events is provided below:
03/05/2019: I respond to the officer’s email thanking him for the CPRA records and attach a copy of my updated CCW application which contains the requested updates to section 7.
03/13/2019: I email the officer and ask if there has been any movement on my CCW application.
04/05/2019: Having not received any contact from the officer, I email him again requesting an update on my CCW application. I also inform him that the Sheriff’s department is in violation of CA penal code 26205 and has passed the 90 day limit for processing applications.
04/11/2019: Having not received any subsequent contact from the officer, I attempt to email him again inquiring about the status of my CCW application.
04/11/2019: The officer informs me that he has not received an updated copy of my application. Upon searching my “Sent” folder, I am able to confirm it was successfully sent to him on March 5, but I attach another copy of it and send it to him again.
04/12/2019: The officer confirms receipt of my updated application.
04/12/2019: I acknowledge his confirmation and ask for a timeline of when I can expect my application to be reviewed and a decision made regarding it. I inform him that I’d like to avoid pestering him with weekly emails asking for updates, but without any guidance or information from the Sheriff’s office, I’m not sure what other options I have.
04/17/2019: I send an email to the officer and CCW@sheriff.sccgov.org requesting either an explanation for the delays in processing my application or a decision to be made whether or not to issue a permit. I re-inform them that they have exceeded the 90-day window provided by CA Penal code 26205.
04/23/2019: The officer informs me that the delay is due to “an extensive backlog” of applications and that my application is moving forward and I need to be scheduled for an interview. He requests dates of availability from me.
04/23/2019: I inform the officer that my California Public Records Request specifically asked for documents related to a backlog of CCW applications and that no records were returned for that specific item. I provide my availability as any day between April 24th and May 7th and ask him to let me know which date works best for the Sheriff’s office.
04/29/2019: After receiving no response, I ask again when I can be scheduled for an interview.
04/29/2019: The officer informs me that he has “some things” on his schedule and will get back to me next week.
04/29/2019: I ask if anyone else in the department can help with scheduling my interview.
04/29/2019: The officer informs me that “it’s just him and his partner” [who process applications] and “we have prior obligations and will circle back next week.”
5/7/2019: I ask the officer again when we can schedule an interview.
5/10/2019: The officer informs me that there is availability on June 4th or 5th at 10 AM and the interview should last approx. 30 minutes.
5/10/2019: I confirm the June 5 appointment and ask where the interview will take place and what documentation to bring.
5/28/2019: After receiving no response, I ask to re-confirm that we’re set for our June 5 interview and ask for the details pertaining to the interview again.
6/3/2019: Two days before our scheduled interview, the officer informs me that he is unable to make it to the June 5 interview and asks to reschedule to June 17.
6/3/2019: I confirm the June 17 date for our interview at 10 AM.
The frequent gaps in communication during this time made it clear to me that if I had stopped following up on the status of my application at any point, this entire process would halt indefinitely. It was clear that the processing of my application clearly was not a priority for him or the sheriff’s office.
On the morning of June 17, I arrived at the SCCSO at 9:50 AM and eventually made my way into the correct office. I met the officer who I had been corresponding with over email and his partner. They were both cordial and we entered a nearby office room where I was asked a series of 40 questions or so, which felt like an extension of the original application. The questions were around things like previous run-ins with law enforcement, driving records, domestic abuse, drug use, etc. Aside from having 2 moving violations in the last 10 years, I truthfully answered every question and do not believe any of my answers would have generated a cause for concern on my application.
The interview took less than 30 minutes and I thanked the officers for their time. I asked how long it would be until I received a response and they informed me that the approval board would probably take 2–3 weeks.
Approved or Denied?
7/2/2019: I email the officer who interviewed me and thank him again for his time during the interview. I ask if there has been any movement on my application.
7/8/2019: No response. I email the officer again and ask for an update with regards to my application since it has been 3 weeks.
7/12/2019: No response. I email the officer again for an update.
7/15/2019: The officer responds. “ I am no longer in the Public Information Roll and will not be handling CCW applications. You should receive information regarding your application status shortly. Thank you for your patience.”
7/17/2019: 195 days after my initial application I receive the following letter from SCCSO:
I plan to apply for a CCW at my local police department, but I fully expect them to defer to the county’s decision. I am not willing to share my good cause publicly, but I can say with authority that it is more detailed and provides better justification than some of the individuals who were approved for and issued a CCW permit. Thanks to the CPRA request, I have proof of that.
- The SCCSO will not follow up on the vast majority of submitted applications and it is the applicants responsibility to continually follow up on the status of their application. If you submit an application without constant follow-up, you might as well not submit one at all.
- The SCCSO does not appear to record or process incoming applications for the vast majority of cases, as they have no records pertaining to the number of applications they receive or process each year.
- Unless you receive an interview date from the SCCSO, your application will indefinitely remain in a state of “incomplete” because you will be unable to fill out section 7. You will not receive a call for an interview unless you repeatedly ask for one.
- The SCCSO does not abide by CA Penal Code 26205 which states that “the licensing authority shall give this notice within 90 days of the initial application”. It took me 195 days to receive a judgement on my application.
- There appears to be no legal recourse to hold the SCCSO accountable for processing incoming CCW applications in a timely manner. They also exceeded their extended CPRA request deadline by more than 3 weeks. Most emails I sent to email aliases at the SCCSO went unanswered. When I attempted to leave voicemails, the voice mailboxes were full. I do not know what can be done about this, but I find it unacceptable that thousands of applications have gone ignored over the years.
- At best, the SCCSO is completely incompetent at handling the processing of CCW applications. At worst, they are willfully negligent and fabricate things such as application backlogs to disguise the fact that they do not dutifully process incoming CCW applications and respond to them in a reasonable time frame.
- The records produced from the CPRA request indicate a bias towards issuing permits to government employees and high ranking company executives. I do not believe wealthy individuals have more of a right to self-protection than average citizens and I am appalled at how the sheriff discriminates against “ordinary” citizens. I am not willing to “test” the theory that donating to the sheriff’s political campaign will get me a permit because I refuse to provide financial support to someone who does not represent the interests or support the rights of the general public.
Further Reading and Credits
Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to continue throughout this 7 month process. It didn’t cost much, but it was certainly an exercise in patience and frustration.
If you would like to contact me regarding media or legal inquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also willing to share the raw data produced from my CPRA request for individuals who are interested. However, please include what you plan to use the CPRA records for when requesting them.