Equal Rights and Concealed Carry

I’m neither a gun owner nor a gun enthusiast, but I have a great deal of respect for Jim March and what he’s trying to do with his Equal Rights for Concealed Carry Weapons project.

I stumbled on Jim’s page while looking for a good explanation of knife laws in California. While I hope to never use a knife in self-defense, I do receive a lot of UPS packages, and have had the distinctly unpleasant experience of being questioned on the street by police officers while privately wondering if the Leatherman in my pocket was legal (it was). As a result, I often have a pocket knife on me, and always make sure that I am up to date on local weapons laws before I visit a state. In our currently paranoid times, I would encourage anyone who owns a weapon, or anything that a jumpy cop or civilian might confuse for a weapon, to do the same. Know your rights. This is a great place to start, if you own any kind of knife.

But back to Jim and his Concealed Carry project. California is one of 46 or so states that permit some formed of concealed handgun carry. It is also one of the six or so governed by so-called ‘may issue’ laws, meaning that issuance of a concealed carry permit is contingent on approval from law enforcement authorities- generally, your local sheriff or chief of police. The difficulty with ‘may issue’ laws is that their application is subjective and inconsistent. If a particular local official is against concealed carry, they can deny every application that crosses their desk. They can choose to only approve applications from law enforcement employees, their family and friends, and others with connections that allow them to affect the process. Worst of all, concealed carry permits can be denied to applicants on the basis of race or economic status.

Jim March took a look at concealed carry permits, and was troubled by what he saw. In districts with large Hispanic and Black populations in California, concealed carry permits were a disproportionately low percentage of the population. Certain districts showed clear signs that most applications were being arbitrarily denied. Further investigation showed that celebrities and others with exploitable fame or connections may have been granted permits when other qualified citizens were denied them.

Jim is out to expose the arbitrariness, corruption, and racism that could be lurking in the California concealed carry system. He has used California’s recently-expanded public information laws to try and force law-enforcement to turn over information about who is and isn’t being granted permits, looking for signs of racism or other bias.

Ultimately, Jim and his supporters have hopes of moving California over into the ‘shall issue’ column. ‘Shall issue’ states grant concealed carry permits to any adult who passes the criminal background check and complies with any required training or other licensing requirements. No special approval from your local sheriff, no special favors for celebs and the wealthy. If Sean Penn can protect himself with a handgun, the guy who lives down the street from the crack house can too.

Arguments about concealed carry laws are back and forth all over the map, and I don’t intend to broach that subject right now. Which statistics you believe is often determined by which side you believe. Whatever your views on concealed carry laws, they shouldn’t affect your belief in equality before the law. If wealthy, white citizens of California can get concealed carry permits, then poor Black, Latino, and Asian Californians should get them too. Whether or not you favor restrictions on free expression, I don’t think that anyone would argue that such laws should affect some racial or economic groups more than others, or that such decisions should be made in secret by officials who are not then held accountable for their decisions. What’s good for the First Amendment is good for the Second; where the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution are concerned, no inequality can be tolerated or left unexamined.


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