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Lawsuits Prompt Bay Area Sheriffs To Issue Concealed Weapons Permits

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The Bay Area has traditionally been a tough place to legally carry a concealed loaded gun. That's because California is a so-called "may issue" state, which means local sheriffs can use their discretion in issuing permits.

In the Bay Area, sheriffs have used it to deny most applicants, but that may be changing.

You wouldn't know if he passed you by, but Charles Dobbs is packing heat. He finally was able to receive a Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) permit this year. "Makes you feel that everybody knows you have it," he said.

In Solano County, the timing was right. "They have spiked in Solano County," said Frazier Baptist, who offers CCW training at his firearms school in Vacaville. It's a 16-hour course that covers everything from gun safety to the legal do's and don'ts of actually firing.

Baptist said for years all that training still couldn't get a permit, because an applicant still had to prove good cause. "Personal safety will never be the sole reason for an approval," he told KPIX 5.

Things changed in 2009, after a grand jury found the Solano County sheriff may have had an "informal policy" of "denying access…and/or discouraging applicants."

The number of people applying for new concealed carry permits has skyrocketed in Solano County, from 27 in 2011 to 254 so far this year.

A similar scenario played out in Sacramento County, after the gun rights group Calguns filed a lawsuit over the same issues. The county went from issuing 95 permits in 2009 to 727 in 2013.

In the nine-county Bay Area, the numbers are all over the chart: San Francisco for instance has not issued a single CCW permit in years. Marin County only has nine active permits. On the other end of the spectrum, Napa County has 359 and Solano County has the most at 451.

"A legal challenge can definitely motivate an official to act differently than they otherwise would, whether or not that challenge is meritorious," said Cody Jacobs with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Jacobs has helped to defend half a dozen California sheriffs against what he views as orchestrated attacks by the gun lobby. "Their goal is to intimidate local officials into just giving everyone permits," he told KPIX 5.

Calguns Foundation president Gene Hoffman disagrees. "When we have a person who is the chief law enforcement officer of a county not actually following state law, it's impossible to say that we are out there intimidating them," Hoffman said.

Hoffman is a leading champion of Second Amendment rights. He said the problem is under California law local sheriffs have discretion, and can abuse it. "The sheriff gets to decide he doesn't like you. That's not constitutional," he said.

Concealed carriers like Charles Dobbs couldn't agree more. "I have auto insurance, I have homeowners insurance. I don't plan on using either one, but you've got to be prepared for the unexpected," Dobbs said.

KPIX 5 put in records requests to all nine Bay Area county sheriffs and came up with a total of 1,616 active CCW permits. Here is the breakdown:

Solano: 451
Napa: 359
San Mateo: 239
Contra Costa: 205
Alameda: 170
Santa Clara: 99
Sonoma: 84
Marin: 29
San Francisco: 0

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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