Sheriff's gun policy makes sense Posted at 12:09 AM on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009
By Bill McEwen / The Fresno Bee
The best gift for a law-abiding citizen this Christmas might be a concealed-weapons permit.
Even though Fresno police always are putting out press releases that claim crime is down, the city doesn't feel safe. Nor does it appear safe. Not on my side of town, at least. Not south of McKinley Avenue. Look, there was a time when I believed that more guns led to more violence. Now, in my gut, I have to agree with Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. She says that a society is safer when responsible people bear arms. "I think it's a good idea to keep the bad guys guessing so that they never know when they're coming up against a citizen who is carrying," Mims says.
Under California law, each sheriff can issue a concealed-weapons permit to anyone with a clean record who has "good cause." Some sheriffs are stingy with permits. Others, such as Mims, believe the permits should go to any eligible person. For Mims, " 'Good cause' is, I can't put a deputy sheriff with every single citizen."
I don't have a gun and I've never applied for a permit to carry one. But this is going to change. In a city where no one is safe from the Bulldogs street gang, every responsible adult should think about carrying a gun.
Consider what happened this week at Palm and Belmont Avenues: Richard Hernandez, 27, married and the father of two children, was murdered at 6 o'clock in the morning.
Hernandez, a deliveryman for Valley Wide Beverage Co., simply was doing his job when, according to police, he was shot in the back for no apparent reason by Joey Jesse Lopez, also 27, a Bulldog gang-banger.
Understand: Hernandez wasn't robbed. There are animals on our streets who don't need a reason to kill other than that's what they want to do. The only thing they understand is the power of a gun, which is why it's best that honest people take up arms.
Advocates for strict gun control raise valid concerns about a proliferation of weapons leading to accidental shootings, particularly involving children. But permit-holders must pass background checks and gun-safety courses in which they are taught how to avoid mishaps. In the end, I think the benefits outweigh the risks.
Back in the mid-1990s, then-City Council Member Bob Lung proposed a revised gun ordinance that would grant a concealed-weapons permit to any applicant satisfying the state standard of "good moral character."
The idea was the talk of the town for several months, with anti-gun forces threatening lawsuits if Lung got his way. Eventually, the council passed a compromise version giving the police chief discretion to decide who received a permit. But Mims attracted little media attention during her 2006 run for sheriff when she made it clear that it would be easier to get a concealed weapon permit if she were elected. "But that was one of the first questions asked at every debate," Mims said. "People wanted to know about the permits."
And they still want to know. Since she was sworn in three years ago, Mims' office has issued 1,134 carry permits, and there are now 2,786 active permits in Fresno County. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, there were a total of 28,121 concealed weapons permits in force in California, according to the state Department of Justice -- meaning that Fresno County residents account for nearly 10% of the permit-holders.
Mims says that there was a logjam of applications early in her term. Her office, which conducts background checks for the permits, has since caught up with the demand. Get this: the sheriff keeps applications in her car for people who want to carry a concealed gun.
No wonder Mims was named "Outstanding Peace Officer of the Year" last month by the California Rifle and Pistol Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association.
Now, I don't agree with much of what the NRA advocates. For example, I can't think of a single reason anyone -- other than law enforcement -- needs an assault rifle.
But I believe in a person's right to defend himself. I believe, too, that an armed society is a polite society.