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With restrictions relaxed, thousands apply to carry concealed firearms in OC

Thousands of people in Orange County have applied for concealed weapon permits following a federal court decision in February. The ruling struck down California's "good cause" standard for issuing concealed carry permits.

The February 2014 court ruling by three U.S. Ninth Circuit Court judges means people who want the permits don't have to state a  'good cause' to get one. Those "causes" have included people carrying large sums of money or private investigators.  

In California, county sheriff's and police chiefs issue the permits — called CCWs — after an interview, a background check and proof of firearms training -- including safety, proficiency and liability.  The "good cause" was part of the screening process.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has appealed the decision.

“Local law enforcement must be able to use their discretion to determine who can carry a concealed weapon," Harris said in a news release February 27.  "I will do everything possible to restore law enforcement's authority to protect public safety, and so today am calling on the court to review and reverse its decision."

The ruling in the San Diego (Peruta v. San Diego) case has many county sheriff's departments, including Los Angeles and San Diego, awaiting an appeal or final instructions before issuing new permits.

On its website, the L.A. Sheriff's Department said it would "not make any final decisions with regard to good cause until either: (1) the Peruta decision is withdrawn by a decision to rehear the case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; (2) a stay is issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the United States Supreme Court; or (3) the decision becomes final."

But Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens isn't waiting. She's dropped the "good cause" standard for CCW's after the court tossed it out. And people are applying — a lot of people.

"About 3,500 have applied," said Hutchens. "We typically get about 500 applications a year. We average, at any given time, about 940 CCW holders in Orange County."

Hutchens said no applicants have been rejected because her office is still scheduling appointments.

"The appointments have gone out to 2016 in some cases based on our original staffing," said Hutchens. "Now we have expanded our staffing to do the investigations and meet with the applicants." 

She said prior to the recent ruling, it would take about three months for an applicant to get a CCW. 

Obtaining a CCW in Orange County requires an application, personal interview, background check and completion of an approved firearms safety course. 

State law prohibits convicted felons from getting the concealed permits. 

"We feel that the law ["good cause"] that we've had here is working, we think it's doing well for Californians," said Deborah Hernandez, who lives in Orange County and is with the California chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.  

"We can't object to people applying for the permits, but we do object to the loosening of standards for granting the permits as the Orange County Sheriff has done," said Hernandez.

Hernandez' group wants Hutchens to wait for a final legal outcome before issuing new CCW permits and has launched a petition campaign urging the sheriff to stop.

"The San Diego Sheriff has said they are not loosening or changing their standards until such time that there is a final ruling," said Hernandez. "So Sheriff Hutchens is under no legal obligation to loosen her standards. She has chosen to do so. And she is using approximately $1.5 million of taxpayer funds to expedite all of these permit applications that have come in."

Sheriff Hutchens said she's taken some heat for following the recent court decision since she dropped the "good cause" requirement for concealed permits and accepting new applications under that policy.

"We should go with what the law is today, recognizing that it could be looked at again, but who knows how long that will take," said Hutchens. "They could do something tomorrow to change it or they could be debating it for the next five years."

For many gun owners, getting a concealed carry permit is simply a chance to exercise their second amendment rights.

The On Target indoor shooting range in Laguna Niguel is one of the largest in Orange County.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the retail gun shop and gun range was bustling with people on the range and waiting for their chance to practice. 

Owner/Operator Gregg Bouslog said interest has skyrocketed for the course required (taught at On Target) to get a concealed carry permit. 

"Demand has increased significantly, across the board," said Bouslog. "There's a huge pent-up demand and there's many, many thousands of people that would like to get a CCW but have known for years that they could not get one because of the restrictions  that were arbitrarily placed when the 'good cause' statement was there. No one could figure out what 'good cause' was." 

Bouslog also sells firearms at his shooting range.

"Are there more people buying guns to do this (CCW permit application) as well? The answer is yes," said Bouslog. "Concealed carry firearms, even though we have a restrictive list in California and the guns have to be approved, those that are available are selling very, very well. I mean very well." 

He said some gun manufacturers have challenged the legality of California's list of approved firearms for concealed carry permit holders. 

Bouslog and staff instructors teach the required 16-hour instructional course for people seeking CCW's

"Part of it is legal, where you look at your legal liability," said Bouslog. "If you pull a gun, what can happen to you if you pull it wrong; where can you legally carry that gun; can you carry it in school, can you carry it in a hospital; can you carry it into city hall; where can you transport that firearm; how can you transport it."

RELATED: Would an open-carry gun law be better than more concealed weapons in California?

Another part of the training includes handling the firearm. 

"The key component of the class is do not aggressively attack, but rather retreat to safety," said Bouslog. "Because if you're in a position where you're going to have to pull your gun, something's wrong. You need to get to a new position that is sustainable and defendable."

Bouslog said if the February ruling is upheld by the ninth circuit, he expects thousands more to apply for permits. And all those people need training. 

"We're looking at literally tens of thousands of training hours required to meet the need," he said.

Bouslog has three range instructors now, but plans to add another 10 to 15 to meet expected demand. 

But Hernandez with Moms Demand Action said she's concerned about more of her Orange County neighbors carrying weapons. 

"It's definitely the 'Wild West' mentality, but even in Tombstone, you had Wyatt Earp saying 'look, you can't carry guns in to town,'" said Hernandez. "We're in an urban area, this is Orange County, there's a lot of areas that are densely packed and some areas not too different from L.A. County and it's a very different story than issuing someone a carry permit in a more rural area." 

Hernandez said California's "strong" concealed carry laws have helped make the state's gun death rates among the lowest in the U.S.

So far, Sheriff Hutchens has not issued any concealed carry permits under the new guidelines because of the backlog of applications. 

She does expect to issue new permits, which are good for two years, "within a few months." 

As to whether more people carrying concealed weapons reduces crime, Sheriff Hutchens said "I think it's a sense of security for some people that they have a weapon with them more than it is an argument to reduce crime rates." 

California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence want the ruling by the three judges reviewed by a full 11-judge Ninth Circuit Court panel.

On Target gun range owner Gregg Bouslog said he expects the issue, like many second amendment cases, will eventually wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Meantime, thousands of Orange County concealed carry applicants will likely be getting new permits, although, with the current backlog, some won't see them until 2015 or 2016.