Seven months after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right to bear arms, San Francisco has not issued a single permit to carry a concealed weapon (CCW). Nor has it denied any CCW applications. Licensing officials in the gun-averse city seem to be dragging their feet in anticipation of local or state legislation that would severely restrict the ability to legally carry handguns for self-defense, defying what the Court has said the Second Amendment requires.
In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, decided on June 23, the Court said licensing officials may not require that carry-permit applicants "demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community." Anti-gun legislators in New York and New Jersey responded by eliminating such requirements while imposing new restrictions on obtaining and using CCW permits. San Francisco's strategy fits that general trend of resistance but stands out as especially brazen.
The San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco Sheriff's Department "have seen a spike in CCW applications" since Bruen, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "In the past, the Sheriff's Department and the Police Department have reported receiving only a few CCW applications a year. But in the three months after the Bruen decision, the police force received more than 100 applications, public records show."
Police accepted those applications but did not act on them. "While other counties are working through waves of applications," the Chronicle says, "San Francisco has yet to grant a single permit since the court's ruling seven months ago."
The official excuse: We've never had to do this before. "This is a new administrative process," Sheriff's Capt. Jamala Sanford told the Chronicle. "It's taken some time to set up the administrative process so that we understand and are on the same page with everybody about the steps that have to be taken—both by the applicant and us—before we can issue or deny an actual permit." A city police spokesman told the paper that "the department 'has been working diligently' to update procedures around CCW applications." So far it has "created a new unit to process applications" and "identified a vendor to conduct mandatory firearms training."
Under California's pre-Bruen policy, applicants had to show "good cause" for exercising their Second Amendment rights. In San Francisco, the Chronicle notes, "no cause has been judged good enough."
In 1995, the city issued 13 CCW permits. The successful applicants included "three Superior Court judges, a retired U.S. Army general and several attorneys and investigators." By 2014, "fewer than 10 people had the permits in San Francisco," and "it's not clear whether any are currently issued in the city," because "the Police Department did not respond to requests for that information."
All of that was supposed to change after Bruen. In a June 24 "legal alert" to law enforcement agencies, California Attorney General Rob Bonta acknowledged that "permitting agencies may no longer require a demonstration of 'good cause' in order to obtain a concealed carry permit." But he added that, in his view, "the requirement that a public-carry license applicant provide proof of 'good moral character' remains constitutional."
Bonta's interpretation of that criterion was alarmingly broad and potentially unconstitutional under the First Amendment as well as the Second. Quoting the policy adopted by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, he said "legal judgments of good moral character can include consideration of honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, reliability, respect for the law, integrity, candor, discretion, observance of fiduciary duty, respect for the rights of others, absence of hatred and racism, fiscal stability, profession-specific criteria such as pledging to honor the constitution and uphold the law, and the absence of criminal conviction." Bonta also said the assessment could include "social media accounts."
As the Chronicle notes, the impact of Bruen nevertheless was apparent in several California jurisdictions:
In June, then-Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the number of concealed-carry permits could rise from 3,145 to more than 50,000, as his department shifted from a "may-issue" to a "shall-issue" standard.
In San Diego County, officials said, more than 4,100 of the 6,900 people who applied for permits in 2022 did so after the Supreme Court ruling. Applications jumped as well in Alameda County, where Sheriff's Lt. Ray Kelly said his agency received about 1,500 applications after the ruling—a number he said was "logistically very challenging."
And in Contra Costa County, the Sheriff's Office that once received about 20 concealed-carry applications a month now receives "several hundred," and has a backlog of over 1,000 applications, spokesperson Jimmy Lee said in November.
While those jurisdictions have at least begun to act on the influx of applications, San Francisco officials supposedly have been flummoxed by the "new administrative process" required to issue the CCW permits that were only notionally available until now. The delay conveniently gives state and local legislators more time to approve restrictions that would make those permits very difficult to use.
S.B. 918, which fell two votes short of passing during the California State Legislature's last session, emulated the approach taken by New York and New Jersey, which banned guns from long lists of "sensitive places." Federal judges blocked many of those location-specific restrictions after concluding that neither state had presented persuasive evidence that the rules were "consistent with this Nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation," the test established by Bruen.
The California bill would have prohibited permit holders from carrying guns in a wide range of settings, including government buildings, public transit vehicles and stations, K–12 schools, colleges or universities, health care facilities, bars, restaurants with liquor licenses, public gatherings, playgrounds, parks, athletic facilities, gambling establishments, financial institutions, stadiums, libraries, amusement parks, zoos, museums, houses of worship, and any "privately-owned commercial establishment that is open to the public." The bill allowed an exception to that last category if "the operator of the establishment clearly and conspicuously posts a sign at the entrance of the building or on the premises indicating that license holders are permitted to carry firearms on the property."
S.B. 918 "also would have required local law enforcement to make sure applicants were 'qualified,' through a lengthy process that included interviews, character references and attempts to determine whether permit seekers were a danger to themselves or others," the Chronicle notes. The bill "was narrowly defeated after its author added an emergency clause—so it would take effect immediately upon [Gov. Gavin] Newsom's signature—that required a two-thirds majority to pass."
State legislators are expected to consider a similar bill during the current session, and San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani plans to propose an ordinance along the same lines. If San Francisco licensing officials drag their feet long enough, they will have less reason to worry about the prospect that residents will finally be allowed to carry guns for self-defense.
In Maryland, supporters of new restrictions on public gun possession are likewise unfazed by the rulings in New York and New Jersey. After Bruen, then-Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who said he had "consistently supported the right of law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms," told the state police to "immediately suspend utilization of the 'good and substantial reason' standard when reviewing applications for Wear and Carry Permits." Since then, the NBC affiliate in Baltimore reports, "the number of concealed-carry applications in Maryland has risen by more than 400% from 14,000 a year to 80,000."
Legislators terrified by that development are considering S.B. 1, which would make it a crime to possess a gun within 100 feet of a business open to the public. Somewhat redundantly and contradictorily, it also would prohibit guns on private property unless the owner has given "express permission."
These restrictions are very similar to the ones that federal judges have deemed unconstitutional in New York and New Jersey. "At some point on the line," Renée Marie Bumb, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, noted last week, "a constitutional right becomes so burdensome or unwieldy to exercise" that "it is, in effect, no longer a constitutional right."
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