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Concealed Carry Weapon Licenses
Sheriffs Have Implemented Their Local Programs Inconsistently and Sometimes Inadequately

Report Number: 2017-101

December 14, 2017 2017-101

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report concerning concealed carry weapon (CCW) license programs operated by county sheriff's departments. State law allows licensing authorities—such as county sheriff's departments—to issue CCW licenses to members of the general public upon proof of an applicant's good moral character, that good cause exists for the license, that an applicant resides within the licensing authority's jurisdiction, and that the applicant has completed firearms training. State law does not further define good moral character or good cause for a license, and therefore licensing authorities have broad discretion in the decision to issue licenses. Our review focused on the programs run by the Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego County sheriff's departments.

This report concludes that the three sheriff's departments we reviewed each use the discretion provided to them by state law to implement their licensing programs differently than one another. However, the departments we reviewed failed to consistently apply their own licensing policies or standards in the licenses we reviewed at each department. We also reviewed fiscal information about the CCW programs to determine whether the programs negatively affect county budgets. We found that each program was relatively small when compared to each sheriff department's expenditures and overall county expenditures and therefore did not have a significant fiscal effect on the county. Although the three sheriffs' departments we reviewed charge application processing fees for CCW licensing, these fees do not appear to cover the costs of the programs. Further, we found that licensing authorities differ in their interpretations of state law's maximum allowable fees for CCW licenses. Therefore, we recommend that the Legislature clarify the law that limits these fees and that each department increase their fees to the maximum extent allowed by state law.

Some have argued that state law needs to change to remove the broad discretion licensing authorities have to issue licenses. After reviewing the CCW program at these three departments, including license issuance rates and license revocations, we did not identify a bad effect due directly to the different approaches departments take to issuing licenses. As a result, we do not conclude state law needs to change to clarify the issuance criteria. However, we do recommend that each department take steps to strengthen their local programs, including modifying licensing policies, establishing or modifying license processing procedures, and improving staff training.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

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