Saturday, July 4, 2009

Solano County Grand jury looks at packin' heat

By Jessica A. York/Times-Herald staff writer
Posted: 07/02/2009 01:00:55 AM PDT
Updated: 07/02/2009 01:00:55 AM PDT

Only seven civilians are legally permitted to carry around a concealed loaded gun in Vallejo.

Conversely, an undocumented number of city residents are within their rights to bring their unloaded guns home from the gun store or repair shop, carry them unloaded in their glove compartments or trunks, holstered visibly on their bodies, or while legally hunting.

Solano County concealed weapon permitting processes were recently scrutinized and found wanting by the Solano County Grand Jury. Vallejo's police chief disagrees with many of the group's generalized assessments.

The grand jury report, released in early April, is not specific to any one county law enforcement agency. The report generally criticizes local processes as "lengthy and convoluted."

Other complaints accuse agencies countywide of subjectivity in application approval, wide permit cost variations, informal discouragement practices and inappropriate notifications to the state.

At the time of the report, there were 124 active permits in the county, according to the grand jury report. In Vallejo, there are 11 permits, most more than a decade old, said police Lt. Abel Tenorio, the department's spokesperson. Of those permit holders, four are reserve peace officers, Tenorio said.

Other similarly sized nearby cities have a range of active permits. Hayward has 16 such permits, all for reserve officers; Fairfield has three, all civilian; Richmond has two, one for a reserve deputy sheriff and another for a retiree. The lion's share of permits have been issued by the Solano County Sheriff's department, with a total of 96 permits -- 43 for private citizens.

Vallejo Police Chief Robert Nichelini said that the concealed gun permit processes, dictated by the state, seem to date back to the days of the Old West. He believes the permits should be handled only by state agencies, instead of locally. In the meantime, he said, obtaining the permit is a lengthy but not convoluted process, at least in Vallejo.

While Vallejo seems to have had increased resident interest in obtaining the permit this year -- five applications distributed already so far, versus about three last year -- not many of the potential permit holders have returned after learning how involved the process is, Tenorio said.

On the other hand, long-time permit holders have been dropping off, Nichelini said, adding that he did not know the cause.

Tenorio estimated that Vallejo police take possession of about one to two illegally carried guns a day. He said said he did not believe that most seizures involved residents unaware of the permitting process, or who could not afford it. Combined, permit costs add up to about $650 in Vallejo.

"In the numerous times that we've taken guns off the street, we've never been given the reason that they're making a bank deposit or fearing for their safety," Tenorio said. "What you hear a lot is, 'That's not mine,' 'I don't know where it came from,' or 'Someone left it there.' "

Nichelini said he did not believe that "normal, law-abiding people" carry a gun without a permit.

"It's more likely they're on parole, or selling dope, or going to a robbery," Nichelini said.

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