The right to carry

The Sheriff and Police Chief’s views on CCWs

According to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, 535 people paid the $118 fee to apply for a two-year concealed carry weapons permit in 2004, down from 746 the previous year. The California Department of Justice listed 1,577 active CCW permits in Butte County as of 2003. The city of Chico has only 11 current CCW’s on file. The following are two Q&A sessions with, respectively, Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff and Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty, about each man’s personal philosophy on the right of citizens to carry concealed weapons.

Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff
CN&R: What is your philosophy on the right to carry concealed weapons?

Reniff: I have the philosophy basically that if you’re a law-abiding citizen and you have a need for a gun permit and you can meet all the requirements of California law, I can issue a gun permit and I will do so. There’s been a lot of controversy about CCWs and 2nd amendment rights and everything and I try to be sensitive to the needs of our community.

CN&R: You’ve got to get reelected – is that part of why you issue so many permits?

Reniff: Well, I wouldn’t think so.

I have a set routine on how they’re issued and it complies with the California law … When you’re talking about city of Chico, city of Oroville, any of those cities, they certainly have a much quicker response for their calls for service and emergencies in a city agency versus the county sheriff’s office. We have to sometimes travel as far as 30 miles or more for a call. Our residents are out there traveling the roads in their vehicles and if they need help it’s going to be a long time getting there, just due to the geographical area that we cover.

I don’t see it as being political. I was accused often that I was going to be very restrictive in the issuance of gun permits and as you can recall I’ve said repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, I am going to comply with California law in how they’re going to be issued

What was your reason for needing one?

CN&R: I wanted to write a story, plus we get threats sometimes. We get people egging our building, weird letters, calls, etc. …

Reniff: Let me ask you this: How often do you usually carry?

CN&R: Almost never.

Reniff: There you go. And the majority of the people that get these permits are probably much like yourself. From time to time they receive some type of threats at their homes or businesses. They may, believe it or not, still carry large sums of cash. There’s just a variety of reasons to want them but once they get them, oftentimes they don’t actually carry them.

CN&R: What’s your philosophy on the 2nd amendment, and an armed populace? A lot of cops are afraid the guns will be turned on them.

Reniff: Well, I can tell you this. Our evidence facility is stocked full of guns that have been used in one type of crime or another. As far as the use against our deputies, that is the fear of anyone, but I can tell you—those people that say that nobody should have a gun, just look at the statistics on those populaces where the guns have been removed. I don’t have the statistics, but the country of Australia had some horrible statistics after they took away the right of their populace to possess firearms. You can do the same thing across the United States on the effect it has on crime once the criminal knows that these people are not armed.

CN&R: Crime goes up once law-abiding people are not allowed to have guns …

Reniff: You better believe it. I firmly believe that the firearm is a definite deterrent to these vicious criminals. Particularly with some of the things you’ve seen right here in this county.

CN&R: How often do you see people defending themselves legally with guns?

Reniff: It’s really basically very rare. You took the class, and you know what the class teaches—it’s to be basically a last resort. You try to talk yourself out of a problem, try to get away from a problem and your last resort is deadly force. It’s only under certain circumstances. Knock on wood when I say this, but I can’t remember in this county where a person with a CCW had to use the firearm to defend themselves.

CN&R: Is it a money-maker for the department?

Reniff: God, no. If you look at the breakdown of fees, and I don’t have it in front of me, but the vast majority of it goes to the state of California. They do the checks through all the different records in Sacramento. The other thing is that … the renewal is certainly much lower than the initial. The other thing that changed is that in ‘99 it changed from a one-year permit to a two-year permit. But no, the county makes no money on this. There’s no way in heck you could make money on something like this …

Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty
CN&R: What’s your philosophy on giving out CCW permits?

Hagerty: I follow the guidelines of the California Police Chiefs Association regarding the issuance of CCW permits, and there is a geographic difference between the police department and the county—our response time is much quicker if for no other reason than just the distance. But you can’t get a CCW permit just because you want to carry a gun. You can’t get a CCW permit just because you want to carry a gun in your car when you travel. There has to be a relationship between the need to carry a concealed weapon and some safety issue that the Chico Police Department can’t really address.

CN&R: Such as?

Hagerty: A businessman that carries a lot of money in off-hours who has to get to the bank. We can’t be around all the time to protect that person and safely get him to the bank. Or, let’s say you have, say a businessperson who has been threatened, and there’s documentation of that threat, and it’s a situation where we can’t have a police officer around all the time to protect that particular person. It has to be a bona fide need and not just a desire to carry a gun …

CN&R: A lot of states have gone to right-to-carry laws, [on the assumption] it lowers crime because criminals don’t know who’s armed. Are you buying in to that?

Hagerty: No, I don’t. I understand that argument, I’ve read some things about it [but] you know, there’s just too darned many guns out there. There’s definitely too many in the wrong hands. But the thing is you get too many guns out there even carried by legitimate people. … The more guns you have out in the community, the more chances that gun is going to be used either wrongly by the person carrying it or access to the gun is going to fall in the hands of someone who shouldn’t have a gun.

CN&R: Do you worry about a rise in CCW permits in the county?

Hagerty: No, I haven’t had any reason to question that. The sheriff knows what he’s doing and whatever criteria he has is working.

CN&R: Why are there more people illegally carrying guns and is there anything you can do about it?

Hagerty: I attribute most of that to career criminals that are in the area that are not afraid to illegally carry a weapon and even worse, are not afraid to use that weapon. There isn’t a single incident that I can think of as my time here as chief where a gun was used by a responsible person with the legal authority to have a weapon. All the weapon issues are from people who shouldn’t have them in the first place. They’re criminal people and don’t care about safety or people’s rights or life.

CN&R: Do you see how that feeds into more people wanting to protect themselves?

Hagerty: I can see that, I can understand that argument. I don’t know that that argument’s valid. Some people may think that, and in fact I know people who think that.

CN&R: But from your point of view, people should leave their protection up to you guys.

Hagerty: Yes, I would prefer that.—JI