Pete Alexander celebrated the news that a federal court in California had thrown out this state’s strict requirements for obtaining a concealed-handgun permit — among the toughest in the nation — by calling the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to apply for a permit he had long wanted.
“I’m a gun enthusiast,” said Mr. Alexander, a construction contractor who lives in Fullerton. “Crime is encroaching on our neighborhood, and I don’t feel as safe as I used to. This is adding to the police force.”
Mr. Alexander turned out to be the beginning of a flood. In the two months since the court sided with a group of gun owners and found California’s law on concealed-weapons permits unconstitutional, nearly 4,000 residents in this county of 3.1 million people have applied for one, eight times the number usually logged in a year. While no permit is required to own a gun, California residents must obtain one to carry a concealed weapon outside their home or business.
The surge in Orange County and, to a lesser extent, a handful of other counties stunned law enforcement officials and offered a striking demonstration of the frustration of California gun owners. It also showed the complicated politics of weapon regulation in a state with a large and ever-expanding catalog of gun control legislation.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, one of the most liberal appeals courts in the nation, sets up a potential battle over gun control before the Supreme Court. If the full Ninth Circuit court upholds the panel’s decision — which is hardly a foregone conclusion — the Supreme Court is likely to take the case, to reconcile the conflicting decisions of different circuit courts.
“This case definitely has the potential to go to the Supreme Court,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at the School of Law of the University of California, Los Angeles. “The biggest unanswered questions with the Second Amendment today are whether the right extends outside of the home, and what kind of permitting states and cities can impose. Gun rights advocates have been pushing the Supreme Court to declare that there is a right to carry concealed firearms outside the home.”
The Ninth Circuit panel’s ruling was appealed, and has been stayed. Nonetheless, Orange County has blazed ahead. It has spent $1.6 million to hire 14 additional part-time workers, many working through the weekend, in response to the crush of applications, which has overwhelmed county telephones and office workers. There is now a 30-month wait to schedule the required in-person hearing to obtain a permit.
“We got inundated,” Sandra Hutchens, the Orange County sheriff, said in an interview. “We don’t have a lot of crime here. But there are some people who feel very, very strongly about their right to bear arms.”
Most counties decided to hold back until a final ruling is issued, including neighboring San Diego County, where the case originated. Sheriff Hutchens, who has tangled with gun owners in Orange County over concealed weapons in the past, said she was moving forward because “this is the law of the land.”
California is one of 11 states that require applicants to meet some condition — including, in California, routinely traveling with a large sum of money or jewelry — to get a concealed-weapons permit, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In the 35 other states that issue concealed-weapons permits, the requirements are far less rigorous.