Wednesday, February 11, 2009

OC Register: Sheriff stands firm on gun permit plan

Sheriff stands firm on gun permit plan
Hutchens tell activists, supervisors her policy to reduce permits remains


Sheriff Sandra Hutchens stood firm Tuesday against the county board of supervisors and hundreds of gun-owners threatening recall because of her controversial plan to reduce concealed weapons permits.

Hutchens, in the third public hearing on the issue in four months, told the crowd and county supervisors that her position had not changed since she first unveiled the new policy last fall -- despite some minor adjustments on how she plans to revoke more than 400 permits.

"I don't make the law. But I am required to enforce the law," said Hutchens, reiterating her view that California state law only allows certain exceptions to the ban on concealed guns in public.

"I realize this is a very passionate issue," Hutchens said. "I suppose the safe course of action would be to ignore the law and find a way around it."

While refusing to budge on the gun permits, Hutchens seemed to attempt a conciliatory tone, wearing a pants suit instead of her official uniform, and bringing a smaller entourage that did not include a top aide disciplined for exchanging disparaging text messages during a previous hearing.

Hutchens noted state statutes that give sheriffs wide discretion in granting gun permits. Former Sheriff Mike Carona was an avid supporter of gun rights and expanding the concealed weapons permits in Orange County.

But after federal prosecutors accused Carona of trading gun permits for campaign contributions, Hutchens decided to adopt a more restrictive policy and apply it retroactively.

Hutchens believes the law provides limited exceptions.

While all five county supervisors told her they did not agree, and warned Hutchens that she is misreading Orange County culture, they said they were powerlessness on the issue Tuesday.

"I do believe this policy remains overly restrictive for our county," said board Chairwoman Pat Bates.

But Bates admitted to the crowd, "the board really can't do much more than make our views known."

She announced this was the last hearing on the issue.

Supervisor Bill Campbell lamented publicly that he could have done a better job of sensing Hutchens views before voting to appoint her sheriff in June.

While Hutchens seemed to withstand the critiques of gun activists and county supervisors, it hasn't come without some damage.

Three different investigations are ongoing into her department's actions during the previous two gun hearings.

Hutchens launched an internal probe into a series of embarrassing text messages that her command staff sent to each other during a Nov. 18 hearing. She also launched another internal investigation into an incident where security cameras operated by a sheriff's investigator focused on the notes of two supervisors.

Meanwhile, the Office of Independent Review is monitoring another investigation into the increased security by sheriff's officials at a Jan. 13 hearing on the permits. Gun owners who attended that meeting have accused the department of trying to intimidate them.

And on Tuesday, county supervisors moved closer to removing the sheriff's department from providing security at the Hall of Administration. The Santa Ana Police Department has indicated interest in providing security to replace the sheriff's department, officials said.

Also, a dispute between the board and Hutchens over the ownership of the security tapes from the January board meeting is still simmering despite an offer by Hutchens Tuesday to abide by conditions set by supervisors for viewing the tapes.

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