Things may have changed Feb. 13 for Sapone and other local residents who want such a permit. The United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that asking applicants to show enhanced reasons for good cause is unconstitutional.
“A shooting at the mall. A home-invasion robbery. Someone waiting behind the bushes. We don’t live in a friendly environment,” Sapone said in an interview Jan 17.
According to Tracy Chief of Police Gary Hampton, the requirements to obtain a concealed weapon permit include not having a felony record and having good character references, in addition to having good cause to carry one. He also pointed out that different jurisdictions used differing standards for good cause.
The Press interviewed Hampton about the city’s concealed weapon policy Feb. 11, before the ruling, and again Tuesday, after the court decision.
Hampton said Feb. 11 that he has relied upon the 1977 definition of a good cause to issue a permit by then-California Attorney General Evelle J. Younger. The opinion, rendered Aug. 23, 1977, reads in part: “Is there a clear and present danger to the applicant, his spouse, his family or his employees?”
“In my interpretation, the court has set a threshold of a good-cause standard that is different from the threshold most California police chiefs had adopted,” the chief said Tuesday.
Hampton said before the recent ruling that the 1977 standard appeared to be the right one for Tracy.
“When I look at our relatively low crime rate,” Hampton said Feb. 11, “when I look at the police resources on the street, and I look at 94 percent of our crime is property crimes — we had less than 160 violent crimes — it appears to be the right application of imminent danger.”
The Press obtained records, through a public records act request, about the number of permit applications in Tracy since 2009. The police department has received 11 applications to carry a concealed weapon. Hampton has approved five and denied three. One Tracy resident never finished his application, and two others, approved before Hampton’s tenure began in August 2011, are now inactive and have lapsed.
Sapone, a plumber who travels regularly to work, thinks people should not have to wait to be threatened before they have a legal right to carry a concealed weapon in public.
“I quite often work in Oakland, Hayward, Fremont. Some of the less-than-desirable parts of town,” he said. “I carry payroll on a regular basis. Sometimes I’ll have 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars’ worth of tools and equipment in the vehicle.”
Hampton said he had relied upon the 1977 opinion in part because there was no unified law governing concealed weapon permits.
“Across California, we’ve seen police chiefs and sheriffs adopt good-cause standards that cover the gamut. They’re very subjective,” Hampton said Tuesday. “Imagine having this applied different based upon where you live in the state. That’s a huge problem.”
The chief suggested that the ruling, if upheld by other courts, including the Supreme Court, could provide a good framework for California.
“There should be a statewide standard instead of the way it is now,” Hampton said Tuesday. “That’s where I think it’s going, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I think a statewide standard gives everybody equal access to a concealed weapon.”
Hampton asked city attorney Daniel Sodergren for a legal opinion about whether the department needed to change its policy immediately. Sodergren said Wednesday that he was still reviewing the lengthy opinion by the Ninth Circuit to answer that question.
“If I were to take this opinion and apply it to our current CCW policy and use that as cause, I would expect to see a significant increase in applications,” Hampton said Tuesday. “On the other hand, I don’t want to overreact to a very early opinion in a very long process and then issue permits that then have to be recalled at a later point. People should be patient. Tracy residents can rest assured their police chief will, in fact, make sure that our policies are in the strictest compliance with what the courts hand down.”
For Sapone, all the good cause he needs is his 4-year-old son.
“I would never want to imagine something happening where I had to either come home without him or him come home without me,” he said. “My wife either.”
• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4231.