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Concealed weapons permits
As national leaders and law enforcement officials across the country talk about possible controversial gun control legislation, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson has renewed his commitment to seeing that law-abiding citizens are able to defend themselves.

"I am concerned about exposing law-abiding citizens to criminal liabilities," said Sheriff Christianson. "California has the strictest gun legislation in the nation and there certainly hasn't been any reduction.... in the number of crimes involving guns. The bad guys still get guns whether they're traded or stolen."

Christianson said the country's focus in light of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., should be "working together with Congress and the president to dealing to underlying addiction and mental illness," he added, "not trying to be eroding the Constitution." The sheriff also noted that while 12,000 people in the U.S. die in alcohol-related crashes, lawmakers are "not rushing out to legislate out the automobile out of existence."

The gun control debate has sparked a rise in sales of guns at gun shops around the nation. But increased sales may also lead to increased requests for concealed weapons permits, too.

Applicants for a carrying a concealed weapons (CCW) permit involves a "very thorough records check," said the sheriff, which may explain why the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department is from 10 to 12 months behind in processing applications. A total of 422 persons are awaiting a decision on their permit to join the 2,250 in the county that already have CCWs.

Contrary to what Christianson called "misinformation" on his position attributed to misleading media reports during the 2010 campaign, Christianson said he continues to issue permits for no other cause than that of self-protection. He said he has approved permits since his first term and that it's not true that someone must have extenuating circumstances to warrant a CCW.

"I recognize self-protection as good cause," said Christianson.

Permit holders include retirees, farmers, business owners and female citizens. Business owners, however, do not need a permit to carry a concealed weapon at their place of business. Nor do homeowners if on their own property.

Christianson requires applicants to meet a standard of proficiency as well as have a clean criminal and mental health record. To be considered for a permit, applicants must have finished a minimum of 16 hours for gun safety and use training. "I am a big proponent that people understand the civil liability that comes with carrying a concealed permit," said Christianson.

Applicants must also supply a set of fingerprints so that his agency can do a background check through the LiveScan system. It is the same process teachers, coaches or youth workers must go through before they are allowed to work around young people. Applicants must also truthfully answer questions about their background and failing to disclose arrests and convictions is cause for rejection.

"Most people who apply are law-abiding citizens and they have no problem getting through the system. It does take some staff time and effort to process these. A detective contacts all applicants to verify. Some are fraudulent or incomplete."

Permits are revoked on occasion when the Department of Justice notifies the local department of arrests. Drunken driving arrests are a chief cause that results in permit revocation.

While police chiefs also can issue permits, Christianson has a non-written agreement with both Ceres and Oakdale police departments to handle any applications from those cities.

Once given a permit, citizens then have a right to carry around a loaded firearm on their person at all times.

"It is a tremendous responsibility to carry a concealed permit," said Christianson, who is not aware of any incident where a permit holder used a firearm in a public place nor acted appropriately with a gun since he became sheriff in 2006. He does fault many gun owners for failing to secure their guns.

"Most of the time, weapons we recover used in the commission of a crime are stolen during residential burglaries and vehicle burglaries," said Christianson. "People must keep their firearms secure."

Another part of the responsibility, he said, is deciding when to use a weapon. He said even seasoned officers struggle with the moment in which they must draw and fire. The user of such a weapon also faces the prospect of possible lawsuits from those shot or survivors if there is a death.

"There is a tremendous pressure to actually engage in a gun battle or not," said Christianson.

The sheriff said he is "not aware of whether or not permit holders have had a positive effect on the safety of our community. I would image the bad guys out there know I am a proponent of permits and I do recognize self-protection as a good cause. Let's hope that ... that knowledge gives those criminals a moment of pause."

The sheriff said he was unaware of a CCW permit holder ever misusing a weapon. However, Ceres police remember when homicide suspect Chris Ford had his permit revoked for questionable use of his gun during a Tyrus Street gun fight in 2006. The permit had been given Ford by Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden.

"There is always a concern of the person using it wisely," said Mike Borges, deputy police chief in Ceres. "I would say that in 99.9 percent of the time that's the case. People do use it wisely.

"I truly think we should be giving concealed weapons permits to people. Unfortunately the criminal element is a hell of a lot more brazen these days and it's getting worse and worse and people need to do whatever they can to protect themselves."

The Sheriff's Department website has a downloadable CCW permit application form. Applicants must pay a $20 fee to the county and $80 to the state Department of Justice to file an application. The issuance of a permit, if approved, costs an additional $80.

Permit holders cannot carry a gun into a bar or when consuming alcoholic beverages, nor may they be under the influence of any medication or drug. Nor may permit holders carry weapons onto airplanes or into other states.