Like other firing ranges in Orange County, these are very busy days for Evans Gunsmithing, a shooting range in the City of Orange in Orange County where gun owners both practice their marksmanship on targets and take firearms safety classes.
“I used to offer one 16-hour class a week. I am now basically offering two of them a week,” says veteran weapons instructor Greg Block. “My classes have also gotten bigger. Two or three of us used to handle the classes. Now, I have a cadre of eight instructors, including myself,” he says.
The demand comes from thousands of people in Orange County who are now applying for permits to carry concealed weapons, permits that when issued allow firearms owners to strap on a weapon and take their guns into places like shopping malls, movie theaters, sports venues and workplaces.
Greg Block says handgun owners in Orange County have long sought the right to carry concealed weapons while in public. “Most of them look at a firearm like piece of safety equipment,” says Block. “I carry a spare tire. I carry a fire extinguisher. I carry a firearm. I hope to God I never need any of the three, but I have all three if I need them.”
The concealed weapons boom in Orange County follows a big change in California gun laws. In February of this year, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down part of a state law restricting how concealed weapons permits are issued in the state. Under that law, you needed what’s called a “good cause” to apply for and receive such a permit; for instance, being a merchant who regularly carries large sums of cash on the street and fears arrest, or someone who’s received death threats from a stalker.
In the wake of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, a “good cause” reason is no longer necessary. Gun owners can apply for a concealed weapons permit simply because they feel that carrying a weapon is important to their self-defense and personal safety, even if they’ve never been threatened or intimidated.
But despite the federal court’s ruling, most California counties are still holding back on relaxing their concealed weapons laws as an appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling from the California Attorney General works its way through the court system.
But Orange County is going its own way. Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchins has gone ahead and dropped the “good cause” standard, effectively allowing all interested gun owners in Orange County who pass a background check and attend a gun safety course to apply for a concealed weapons permit.
“Right now,” says Greg Block, “John Q Public Citizen, can call up the Sheriff’s Department, make an appointment, fill out the application and apply and receive a concealed weapons permit that is issued by Orange County Sheriff.”
Mark, a 64-year-old industrial designer who didn’t want his last name used, took Block’s firearms safety class. He says when he gets his concealed weapons permit, he’ll rarely leave the house without a gun under his shirt. “It will be a thing where I carry as often as the law will allow. I will have it with me every moment that it will be allowed,” he says.
Danni Babb, a petite online education consultant and mother of a small daughter says she’ll pick and choose when and where she carries her concealed weapon. “The truth is, I probably don’t see myself doing that very often,” says Babb. “I know people want to be able to carry it all the time, go to Starbucks, etcetera. I don’t see myself walking into Starbucks with a gun.”
Greg Block says they should only draw and fire their weapons when they believe their lives or the lives of loves ones are in imminent and direct danger. “You cannot draw a gun as a deterrent,” says Block. “You can only draw when you are in fear of your life. Drawing it to early, you are brandishing. If you are drawing it too late, you are dead. Draw it in the middle. Draw because you think you need it or you are in fear of your life.”
Listen to the story for more information about how a relaxed concealed weapons law is changing Orange County’s gun culture and the wider issue of whether concealed weapons increase or diminish violence.