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Concealed Carry Weapon Licenses
Sheriffs Have Implemented Their Local Programs Inconsistently and Sometimes Inadequately

Report Number: 2017-101

Chapter 1

Three Sheriffs' Departments Have Different CCW Policies, but They Have Not Always Followed Those Policies When Implementing Their Local CCW Programs

State law grants licensing authorities discretion in establishing criteria to satisfy the four conditions required for issuing a CCW license. Although the sheriffs' departments in Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles have developed their own permissible policies for evaluating CCW applications, they do not consistently follow those policies when issuing CCW licenses. In fact, Los Angeles did not completely adhere to its policies when issuing any of the 25 CCW licenses we reviewed. For example, Los Angeles issued all but one of these licenses without obtaining the level of documentation it expects to demonstrate that the applicant has met the good cause requirement.

Although the departments have differing policies for processing CCW applications, we did not identify a bad effect resulting from the variations in policy. After reviewing information related to licensing rates and the factors that can lead to a revoked license, we determined that neither a high number of licenses nor a high number of revoked licenses necessarily demonstrates that state law's licensing criteria must be clarified. For example, a revoked license is not necessarily evidence that a licensing authority inappropriately evaluated an individual at the time it issued the license. Individuals can become prohibited persons after they are issued a license because of factors that would not be evident at the time they applied.

The Three Sheriffs' Departments Differ in Their CCW License Policies

State law allows licensing authorities to issue a CCW license to an applicant upon his or her proof of the following four conditions: the applicant is of good moral character, good cause exists for the issuance of the license, the applicant is a resident of the county or a city within the county or the applicant's principal place of employment or business is in the county or city, and the applicant has completed a course in firearms training. Although state law provides a brief description of the subject matter that must be included in the required firearms training, it provides little additional guidance as to what information licensing authorities should require to determine whether the applicant meets the four conditions for CCW licensing. As a result, state law grants licensing authorities broad discretion in the decision to issue CCW licenses. Under that discretion, the three departments we reviewed have developed widely differing requirements for how applicants must demonstrate that they satisfy the four required conditions, and the number of licenses that each issued varied significantly in each fiscal year from 2014–15 through 2016–17. Table 4 shows the number of CCW licenses each department issued, denied, renewed, revoked, and suspended over that period. As we discuss later in this chapter, San Diego was unique among these three departments in its practice of suspending licenses.

Table 4
CCW Licenses Issued, Denied, Renewed, Revoked, and Suspended by the Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles Sheriff Departments in Fiscal Years 2014–15 Through 2016–17

Sacramento San Diego Los Angeles
2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2014–15* 2015–16 2016–17
New licenses issued 2,552 1,569 2,218 138 173 153 16 30 20
Denied license applications 237 235 182 27 35 33 6 278 548
Renewed licenses issued 1,528§ 2,279 3,331 349§ 423 425 89 64 68
Revoked licenses 47 70 59 1 1 3 0 0 0
Suspended licenses NA NA NA 1 2 2 NA NA NA

Sources: California State Auditor's analysis of Sacramento's Weapons Permits and Licenses database and its Permitium database, San Diego's License Application Processing and Tracking database, spreadsheets kept by Sacramento's and San Diego's staff related to renewed licenses, and San Diego's and Los Angeles's CCW license files. As stated in Table 3 in the Introduction, we determined that the Sacramento and San Diego databases are not sufficiently reliable because those departments primarily record only the most recent date for a CCW license action.

NA = Not applicable.

* Los Angeles has a policy of retaining CCW applications for two years. According to its CCW manager, the department purges its records of inactive CCW licenses and denied CCW applications after two years. Although we found that some inactive records and denied CCW applications still exist, the number of CCW actions we show for fiscal year 2014–15 does not include all activity in that year.

During the Peruta v. San Diego litigation, several individuals sued San Diego challenging the department's interpretation and application of the statutory good cause requirement. In June 2016, San Diego announced that it would not take further action on applications that were held pending a decision on this litigation, and the applicants were instructed to reapply. The number of CCW licenses denied by San Diego does not include these applications.

As a result of the Peruta v. San Diego litigation, Los Angeles issued notices to applicants who applied under the self-defense standard set forth in Peruta informing them that once the Peruta decision was final, it would process their applications. According to its CCW manager, Los Angeles began processing these applications in mid-June 2016, and this activity led to an increased number of license denials in fiscal year 2016–17.

§ Because CCW licenses are typically renewed every two years and Sacramento and San Diego primarily record only the most recent date of a CCW license action in their databases, the databases likely understate the number of renewed licenses in fiscal year 2014–15. Therefore, we used spreadsheets each department kept separate from their databases, which we did not assess the reliability of, to determine the number of renewed licenses in that year.

To evaluate an applicant's moral character, each department reviews his or her criminal history but not in the same manner. Sacramento and San Diego have established guidelines for how they determine that an applicant does not meet the moral character requirement. For example, Sacramento considers applicants who have been arrested within the past five years or convicted within the past seven years, regardless of the charge, to have failed the good moral character requirement. Guidance from the sheriff highlights that any criminal history, regardless of the severity, speaks to an applicant's judgment and should be given weight in the decision to issue the license. San Diego's procedures state that it does not issue CCW licenses to individuals who are under any form of probation or who have had numerous negative contacts with law enforcement. In contrast, according to Los Angeles's administrative service manager, who is responsible for reviewing CCW applications (CCW manager), that department does not automatically deny a CCW applicant with a criminal history. Instead, it evaluates criminal history case by case to determine whether the applicant meets the moral character requirement.

In addition to reviewing an applicant's criminal history, the three departments may contact the applicant to perform other assessments to evaluate good moral character. According to its CCW manager, Los Angeles reviews statements on the CCW application and makes decisions regarding moral character based on the applicant's answers to questions on the application. Furthermore, if an applicant discloses a conviction on the application, the department contacts the individual for more information. Sacramento and San Diego take a different approach and interview every CCW applicant—whether or not they disclosed a conviction—to verify the information provided in the application and, if necessary, to obtain additional information about the applicant's circumstances. For example, if an applicant has a criminal history, Sacramento obtains an explanation from the applicant. In addition to the in-person interview, San Diego also conducts a review of the applicant's social media presence. According to San Diego's manager of the Licensing and Criminal Registration Division (licensing manager), individuals will occasionally post something online that speaks negatively to their moral character, but she was unable to recall a specific instance in which the social media review significantly influenced the department's evaluation of an application.

Similarly, each department requires different kinds and amounts of documentation for establishing that an applicant has good cause, and Sacramento is markedly different in its approach. Sacramento's practice permits the applicant's stated desire to obtain a license for self-defense or for the defense of an applicant's family to suffice as good cause. We noted that most of the 25 Sacramento CCW licenses we reviewed identified the good cause to be one or the other of these reasons. Unlike Sacramento, San Diego does not consider an applicant's stated desire to obtain a license for self-defense sufficient cause. Instead, that department requires other types of documentation for its four good cause categories: law enforcement personnel, personal protection, security or investigative personnel, and business owners or employees. For example, it requires individuals applying under the personal protection category to provide documentation, such as a restraining order, to demonstrate that their circumstances distinguish them from the mainstream and cause them to be in harm's way. Of the three departments we reviewed, Los Angeles has the policy with the narrowest definition of good cause. Its policy states that good cause exists only if there is convincing evidence of a clear and present danger to life or of great bodily harm to the applicant or to his or her spouse or dependent child; in addition, it must be demonstrated that this danger cannot be adequately dealt with by existing law enforcement resources, cannot be reasonably avoided by alternative measures, and would be significantly mitigated by the applicant's carrying a concealed firearm.

In addition, although each department requires applicants to provide at least two items to verify residency, the three departments do not require the same proof. According to its website, Sacramento requires applicants to demonstrate residency by submitting two monthly bills with their current address, such as utility bills, cellphone bills, credit card statements, or mortgage statements. San Diego also requires at least two documents, such as a utility bill, lease agreement, or property tax statement, to demonstrate residency. In addition to the documentation, Sacramento and San Diego both review Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records to verify the applicant's address. Los Angeles, on the other hand, requires individuals to submit an approved, recognized identification card and at least one recent item of U.S. mail.

Lastly, each department has established different firearms training requirements for new applicants, although they all have the same requirement for CCW license renewal applicants. State law prohibits a licensing authority from requiring more than 16 hours of firearms training for initial applicants; at the same time, it does not specify a minimum number of training hours for such applicants. As a result, licensing authorities have some discretion on the number of training hours they require applicants to complete. For new applicants, Sacramento requires a 16-hour training course, whereas San Diego requires an eight-hour course. Until January 2016, San Diego also required individuals to complete a qualifying shoot and weapons safety check with its Weapons Training Unit in addition to the eight‑hour course.3 However, the department found that these activities were identical to those already occurring during the eight‑hour training it required and, in January 2016, the department eliminated the additional requirement. Los Angeles, on the other hand, does not prescribe the number of hours that an applicant must attend training. Instead, its policy simply mirrors state law's requirement by not requiring more than 16 hours of firearms training for a new applicant. According to Los Angeles's CCW manager, most initial training courses are eight hours, but the individual has the option to take up to 16 hours. For renewal of licenses, all three departments require the applicants to complete a four-hour training course.

The differing policies established by the departments are all permissible under the broad discretion given by state law. However, as we discuss in the following sections, the departments did not consistently adhere to their respective CCW license policies when evaluating the applications we reviewed. For each department, we reviewed 25 issued licenses—15 initial and 10 renewed—and 15 denied applications from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2016–17. Figure 1 identifies the number of issued licenses we reviewed that did not comply with the departments' respective policies and practices.

Figure 1
The Three Sheriffs' Departments Did Not Always Follow Their Respective CCW Policies, Procedures, or Stated Practices Before They Issued or Renewed the CCW Licenses We Reviewed

A bar chart showing that the three sheriff's departments did not always follow their respective concealed carry weapons licensing policies, procedures, or stated practices before they issued or renewed the concealed carry weapons licenses we reviewed.

Sources: California State Auditor's review of CCW licenses that Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego issued or renewed from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2016–17.

= Number of files that did not demonstrate that the department adhered to its policies, procedures, or stated practices.

= Number of files that demonstrated that the department adhered to its policies, procedures, or stated practices.

Los Angeles's CCW Program Is Marked by a Consistent Failure to Follow Its Public CCW Policies

During our review of licenses issued from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2016–17, we found that Los Angeles approved applications that did not meet its policy requirements for good cause, residency, and training. Additionally, it did not follow its stated practices for assessing good moral character. As previously mentioned, the department's written policy requires all CCW applicants to meet certain requirements in order to qualify for a CCW license. However, we reviewed 15 initial CCW licenses and 10 renewed CCW licenses that Los Angeles issued in our audit period and found that the department could not demonstrate that it properly issued any of them. Specifically, the department failed to obtain documented support in the area of good cause for 24 CCW licenses, failed to adequately document verification of the residency requirement for any of the 25, failed to obtain evidence of firearms training for five of the licenses, and failed to verify good character in accordance with its practice for three.

Los Angeles Issued Most CCW Licenses Without Evidence That the Applicants Met Its Good Cause Requirement

Although Los Angeles has a clear policy describing the conditions that an applicant must meet to satisfy its good cause requirement, it rarely collected adequate evidence that applicants to whom it issued CCW licenses met this requirement. As we described previously, Los Angeles requires individuals to satisfy the good cause requirement by submitting convincing evidence of a clear and present danger to life or of great bodily harm. The denial letters that Los Angeles sends to applicants state that "convincing evidence of clear and present danger" typically refers to a current situation involving specific persons who have threatened an individual and who have displayed behavior that suggests the threat could be carried out. According to its CCW manager, the department expects individuals to turn in documentation, such as restraining orders or police reports, to demonstrate that direct, recent threats exist against them. The CCW manager stated that it is insufficient for an applicant to submit a statement that he or she is aware of others receiving threats or being attacked to establish good cause. Los Angeles's denial letters also state that situations that suggest only a potential danger to safety, such as carrying large amounts of money to the bank or holding a specific job or profession, will not satisfy its criteria for a CCW license. We reviewed 15 initial licenses and 10 renewed licenses the department issued from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2016–17 and found that Los Angeles issued 14 of them without obtaining documentation that supported the applicants' written statements identifying specific, personal threats. For example, a judicial officer stated on his application that he had been subject to numerous verbal and written attacks and veiled threats of physical harm and that he had received letters from parolees stating that they would do everything they could to get "justice." However, his application file contained no documentation of these threats, and yet Los Angeles issued him a CCW license without any supporting evidence for those threats he claimed.

In contrast, Los Angeles does not grant CCW licenses to other applicants who described personal threats but did not provide documentation. For example, the department denied a license to an individual whose CCW application, like that of the judicial officer's, did not contain documents to support an asserted threat. According to this application, the individual was a board member and vice president of a neighborhood council. He stated on his application that an aggrieved individual had researched his personal life and mentioned the applicant's recent family activities during a council meeting. He also asserted that the individual had made indirect threats, such as "you will get what you deserve." However, unlike the judicial officer, Los Angeles denied this applicant a CCW license, stating that he did not satisfy the requirements of good cause.

We also found that Los Angeles issued licenses to applicants who did not even assert that they faced personal threats. Of the 25 CCW licenses we reviewed, Los Angeles issued 10 to applicants who did not identify in their individual CCW applications a specific, personal threat. One of these applicants—a judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court—stated on his application that he wanted a CCW license for self-protection and the protection of others. He further stated that as a judge he sentences defendants to jail every day. Although this individual provided no information about a personal threat, Los Angeles issued him a CCW license in February 2017. However, the department denied CCW licenses to other individuals who did not claim a specific threat. For example, in March 2017, Los Angeles denied a license to an individual who stated in his application that he wanted a CCW for personal protection because he worked in undesirable and remote areas and carried large amounts of cash. In its denial letter, the department stated that it was denying the license because the circumstances, as outlined in the application, did not satisfy the requirements for good cause. In this case, the denial was consistent with Los Angeles's policy on CCW licenses. Nevertheless, the number of licenses among those we reviewed that were issued without an identified specific threat indicates that Los Angeles is not consistently adhering to its policies.

During our testing, we noted that 22 of the 25 CCW licenses we reviewed were issued to applicants with professions that connected them to the law enforcement community: the individuals were former or current law enforcement officers, judges, court commissioners, retired federal agents, and deputy district attorneys.4 In fact, we found that of the 197 licenses that Los Angeles had issued that were active as of mid-August 2017, only nine were issued to applicants outside of that community. Figure 2 shows the different professions of applicants to whom Los Angeles issued CCW licenses that were active as of mid‑August 2017.

Figure 2
Only 5 Percent of Los Angeles's Active CCW Licenses Were Held by Individuals Outside the Law Enforcement Community as of Mid-August 2017

A pie chart showing that only 5 percent of Los Angeles's active CCW license were held outside of the law enforcement community as of mid-August 2017.

Source: California State Auditor's review of Los Angeles's CCW license records for the 197 individuals with active licenses as of mid-August 2017.

* We define law enforcement community as including law enforcement officers, retired federal agents, judicial officers, and deputy district attorneys.

Retired federal agents are not required by state law to meet the same criteria as other applicants. For example, they do not need to meet the good cause requirement.

When we asked Los Angeles about the number of licenses issued to applicants within the law enforcement community, the lieutenant responsible for reviewing CCW applications said that he was aware that most of the department's CCW licenses were issued to such individuals and that they met the good cause requirement because of the nature of their jobs. He also stated that the decision to recognize these occupations as sufficient good cause went back several sheriffs and that it was institutional knowledge within the department that individuals in the law enforcement community satisfy the good cause requirement through their occupations. Nevertheless, his statement contradicts Los Angeles's written CCW policy, which specifically states that "no position or job classification in itself shall constitute good cause for the issuance, or for the denial, of a CCW license."

The department disagrees that its practice contradicts its written CCW policy. When we asked the lieutenant about the discrepancy between its policy and practice, he agreed that there are some inconsistencies in Los Angeles's practice, but he did not believe that the department's practice contradicted the policy because the policy allows discretion in evaluating an applicant's good cause. He also believes that the department issued CCW licenses to applicants with connections to the law enforcement community because of both the nature of their jobs and the circumstances they described in their applications. However, as noted earlier in this section, for 10 of the issued licenses we reviewed, the applicants did not describe in their CCW applications a specific, personal threat. Nine of these individuals were members of the law enforcement community. In those applications, we found some statements that claimed as good cause for licenses little more than the individuals' desire for self-protection that expressed knowledge that other individuals had been threatened or that described the applicants' duties as judges. These circumstances fall well short of Los Angeles's definition of a clear and present personal danger to the applicant. Therefore, it is not clear how Los Angeles's determination that these applicants met its good cause requirement could be based on anything other than their occupations, which Los Angeles's policy specifically states are insufficient on their own to meet its good cause requirement.

Moreover, we found that Los Angeles's failure to adhere to its good cause policy extends beyond those in the law enforcement community. From April 2015 through June 2017, the department issued CCW licenses to six applicants who stated in their applications that they were employed in Los Angeles by the Consulate General of Israel (consulate general). We tested one of these licenses as part of our review of 25 issued licenses and identified the others during our count of licenses. None of these six individuals submitted documentation to support that he or she had experienced a specific, personal threat. When we asked why Los Angeles granted these individuals CCW licenses, the CCW manager stated that staff who work in security for the consulate general satisfy Los Angeles's good cause requirement because they protect diplomats and other individuals who face threats. However, her assertion also directly contradicts Los Angeles's CCW policy, which states that good cause shall only exist if there is convincing evidence of a clear and present danger to life or of great bodily harm to the applicant, the applicant's spouse, or dependent child.

Having formal, written guidance about individuals whose applications Los Angeles believes satisfy the good cause requirement because of their professions would help it better defend its decisions to issue certain applicants licenses while denying others who submit similar documentation or statements about personal threats. As previously mentioned, San Diego has four categories for which it issues CCW licenses, and one of those is a category specifically for law enforcement professions, which include active or retired reserve officers, federal agents, deputy district attorneys, and judicial officers. San Diego's CCW policy states that it evaluates good cause case by case. The policy describes how all applicants must provide documentation to support their cause and how the type of documentation will vary based on the category in which the individual applies. According to San Diego's licensing manager, individuals applying for a license under the law enforcement category of good cause must submit evidence of their employment. In this way, San Diego makes it clear that it expects different types of documentation from individuals who apply under each of its four categories. Because it does not have a similar policy, Los Angeles is unable to fully support its practice of determining that some applicants have good cause simply because of their occupations while denying licenses to other individuals who submit otherwise similar applications.

In addition to the inequitable treatment under its policy that Los Angeles has given to certain applicants based on occupation, the department issued a license to one individual based on direct authorization from the sheriff, even though the individual did not meet its definition of good cause. When the individual submitted his application, the department requested additional information about the threats he had experienced. Although the applicant did not provide documentation of a specific threat, Los Angeles's former chief of staff informed a former assistant sheriff that the sheriff would approve the application and instructed the former assistant sheriff to proceed with processing the license. The department issued the applicant a license in June 2016. In doing so, Los Angeles did not adhere to its CCW policy because it did so without documentation of a specific threat. Although state law gives the sheriff ultimate discretion to issue CCW licenses, direction from the sheriff to approve a specific license is outside of the regular approval process in Los Angeles, and in this case the direct approval appears to have ended the department staff's efforts to obtain information that would have supported issuing the license in accordance with policy.

When we asked about the sheriff's involvement in the decision to issue that license, the lieutenant stated that while he agreed that the sheriff is not typically involved in reviewing CCW applications, the sheriff has the right and authority to weigh in on the process as well as the responsibility for the CCW program. However, regardless of whether the sheriff himself approved the CCW license, we expected that the department would obtain sufficient documentation according to its policy before it issued a license. The lieutenant also stated that the department requested that this applicant provide additional information and the applicant did so in a written statement that documented the justification for a CCW license. Although the applicant provided a written statement outlining the threats he received during his career as a federal prosecutor, he did not provide any documentation, such as a police report, to support this statement. As we have previously discussed, Los Angeles expects applicants to submit supporting documents to demonstrate a direct and recent threat. Therefore, based on this expectation the department should have obtained more from this applicant before it granted him a license.

Los Angeles Also Failed to Follow Consistently Its CCW Policies and Stated Practices for Its Residency, Training, and Good Moral Character Requirements

Los Angeles did not follow its policy for determining residency before it issued any of the 25 CCW licenses that we reviewed. According to its policy, applicants satisfy the residency requirement by presenting an approved, recognized identification card and at least one item of U.S. mail. However, Los Angeles did not collect this documentation for 24 of the 25 license applications we reviewed. In the 25th application file, the identification card and U.S. mail provided differing address information. As a result, the department cannot demonstrate that it followed its residency policy when issuing any of these 25 licenses. Because it did not verify that these individuals resided at the addresses stated on their applications, Los Angeles faces a higher risk that it issued CCW licenses to individuals who were not residing in its county and whom it was therefore not allowed to license. The department's CCW manager, who has been the manager since June 2017, was unsure why Los Angeles does not obtain the documentation that its written policy requires. Although she also asserted that many applicants submit proof of residency per the policy, we did not find this statement to be accurate for the 25 license files or even the 15 denied applications that we reviewed. Obtaining documentation to support that applicants reside at their stated addresses can provide the department confirmation that individuals are honest on their applications and helps ensure that the department does not license individuals it is not allowed to license.

Furthermore, Los Angeles did not obtain documentation that every approved applicant completed the required firearms training. State law requires licensing authorities to obtain proof that applicants have completed a training course with instruction on firearm safety and the law regarding the permissible use of a firearm as a minimum. Accordingly, as previously mentioned, Los Angeles requires up to 16 hours of training for initial CCW applicants and no less than four hours of training for renewal applicants. However, Los Angeles did not obtain proof that applicants completed training for five of the 25 licenses we reviewed. The CCW manager stated that every individual to whom the department issues a CCW license should have documentation of completed training in his or her CCW application file before the department issues the CCW license. She also stated that she was not aware of any reason an applicant would not have training records on file. Without the appropriate documentation, Los Angeles cannot demonstrate that it complied with state law when it issued these five CCW licenses. Further, it cannot ensure that these individuals are trained on firearm safety and the permissible use of a firearm.

Finally, Los Angeles also did not always follow its stated practices for evaluating whether applicants are of good moral character. According to the CCW manager, the department has a two‑part evaluation of an applicant's good moral character: a review of the individual's statements on the application and a criminal background check processed through Justice. The CCW manager stated that if an applicant's responses on the application cause the department concern, the lieutenant interviews the applicant to obtain additional information or to verify the documentation and statements. However, we found that the department could not demonstrate that it completed such a review for three of the 25 applicants. Two of these individuals submitted incomplete applications—one did not address three questions regarding any incidents involving firearms, domestic violence, and arrests or charges for criminal offenses, while the other did not address questions about whether he had been convicted of any criminal offense, was on probation or parole, or had been or was subject to a restraining order.

When we asked the department about these two cases, the lieutenant was unsure why the individuals did not complete the applications and said that staff reviewing the applications should have caught the mistakes. The lieutenant also stated that the unanswered questions do not necessarily mean that the applicants are of bad moral character and that the totality of their applications indicate that they are responsible people. However, we believe these unanswered questions should have concerned the department because the questions address serious topics that speak to the applicant's character and criminal history, regardless of whether the department believes that the applicants are responsible people. Furthermore, the department forgoes a valuable opportunity to evaluate applicants' honesty when it does not ensure that they address every question on the application, including those concerning criminal history. Therefore, Los Angeles should have contacted these individuals and obtained additional information about their circumstances to ensure that they were not purposefully omitting critical information.

In the third case, Los Angeles issued a CCW license to an applicant who disclosed that he had been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) about six months before he applied, but the department did not document that it considered either this arrest or a previous conviction for DUI when making its determination about the applicant's moral character. We expected that the department would have contacted the applicant and obtained more information about his arrest. However, we found no documentation that it did so. The lieutenant stated that the department issued this license before he joined the CCW program, and he felt it was inappropriate to speculate about the decision-making process that led to the issuance of this license.

Los Angeles's failure to obtain complete documentation before it issued the licenses we reviewed can be attributed in part to the department's lack of written procedures for processing CCW applications. Although it has a formal CCW policy, the department has no written procedures for processing applications. As a result, its staff do not have guidance to ensure that they are appropriately and consistently evaluating all applications. By having written procedures, Los Angeles can better define its expectations for the documents its staff should obtain from CCW applicants.

Sacramento's Administrative Weaknesses Led It to Issue Some Licenses That Did Not Meet Its Requirements

Although we found no evidence that it did not comply with state law, Sacramento issued some CCW licenses without collecting documentation showing that the licensing process adhered to Sacramento's standards. According to the assistant to the sheriff who oversaw the CCW program during the majority of our audit (assistant to the sheriff), the department does not have formal procedures for the staff who review CCW applications. To assess its CCW application process, we spoke with the assistant to the sheriff to confirm the department's expectations for processing an application. We also reviewed the instructions that Sacramento provides applicants on its website about what documents it requires to demonstrate residency and receipt of appropriate firearms training. The department has also developed internal criteria to determine whether applicants meet the good moral character and good cause requirements. For some of the 25 issued licenses we reviewed, Sacramento accepted documentation that did not align with its stated expectations. However, in most of these cases, other evidence in the application files indicated that the applicants had met its standards for a CCW license.

Among the application files we reviewed, documents related to residency were those that most often did not align with Sacramento's standards. On its website, the department provides examples of acceptable residency proof, which include utility bills and credit card statements. According to the website, applicants are to provide two documents proving residency that are dated within 60 days of their application dates. The website also explains that the department will verify that the applicant's address is current. Therefore, we expected to find the documents that the applicant provided as well as evidence that the department had verified that the applicant's address matched the address on file with the DMV. However, for the 25 licenses we reviewed, we found seven cases in which only some of the residency documentation aligned with Sacramento's standards and one instance in which the file did not contain any sufficient documents.

According to the assistant to the sheriff, the department's goal is to verify residency through multiple means. For seven of the files we reviewed, we saw evidence that the department had at least one properly dated residency proof that the applicants submitted or that the department had checked the applicants' addresses against the DMV records. For example, in two of these files we observed that applicants submitted residency proofs that were dated more than 60 days before the application date. However, we also saw evidence that the department had checked the applicants' addresses against the DMV records. In other cases, the department did not document that it verified applicant addresses with the DMV, but the application file contained at least one residency proof that was dated no earlier than 60 days before the application date. Therefore, in these cases, Sacramento obtained at least some evidence—aligned with its standards—that demonstrated the applicants were residents of Sacramento County. Nevertheless, for these seven cases, according to the instructions it provides applicants to submit two documents dated within 60 days of application, Sacramento had less assurance about the applicants' residency than it expects to have according to the instructions on its website.

Further, in one case we reviewed, Sacramento obtained undated residency proofs, and it did not document address verification with the DMV. That application file contained two residency proofs with insufficient information to determine whether the applicant met the 60-day requirement: one proof was undated and the other was a credit card statement that listed only a payment due date. Therefore, according to its stated expectations, Sacramento did not obtain adequate documentation in this case to establish that the applicant met the residency requirement in state law.

Additionally, Sacramento issued one of the 25 licenses we reviewed to an applicant who did not provide evidence proving that she had attended the required number of training hours. Sacramento's website explains that it requires initial licensees to attend a 16‑hour firearm training within 180 days before the issuance of the license. In one case, Sacramento issued an initial license to an applicant who provided a certificate that showed she had completed a four‑hour training course for CCW renewal. There were no documents in the application file that demonstrated the applicant had attended any additional training. The assistant to the sheriff agreed that this amount of training does not meet the department's standards for initial licenses. In addition, we found that Sacramento issued licenses to two other applicants who provided training certifications that were older than Sacramento's 180-day standard by as much as 21 days. Both trainings were taken after the applicants applied for their CCW licenses. According to the sheriff's assistant, the department prefers that applicants complete their training within the 180 days before the department issues the CCW license, but it will accept older training provided the applicant received the training after submitting the application.

Further, we found that Sacramento renewed some licenses without documenting that it had performed local background checks. The local background check is separate from the criminal history background checks that Justice performs. According to the assistant to the sheriff, during these local checks, the department reviews local law enforcement databases that contain non-arrest contact that law enforcement may have had with the individual. The assistant to the sheriff stated that the department's practice is to perform local checks on applicants when they first apply for a CCW license and when they renew, and the department may use that information to deny an applicant a license if there is a consistent demonstration of poor decision making. However, we found that Sacramento renewed three of the 10 renewed licenses we reviewed without documenting a local background check. Because Sacramento did not have such documentation, anyone reviewing these files would have less assurance that these applicants met Sacramento's good moral character standard.

Our review of 25 application files for licenses that Sacramento issued found that the files contained varied amounts of documentation for whether applicants had met its standards. In some cases, such as the one involving the applicant who did not demonstrate she had obtained a sufficient number of training hours or the case of the applicant who did not provide appropriately dated proof of residency, Sacramento issued licenses without its required level of assurance. The assistant to the sheriff attributed these inconsistencies to human errors in the application process. However, we noted that Sacramento's CCW program has administrative weaknesses that make it more likely for these types of errors to occur.

Sacramento does not provide its staff with formal training or procedures to follow when reviewing applications. According to the assistant to the sheriff, Sacramento staffs its CCW unit with one full-time staff member and part-time retired annuitants. He stated that Sacramento expects its CCW application reviewers to use the information within the application and their previous law enforcement experience to guide their reviews. Further, he observed that the unit does not have formal written procedures for application reviews because it is easier to adjust practices when they do not need to be frequently rewritten. However, we believe training and formal procedures would better inform staff about the expectations for CCW application reviews and are important for ensuring that the inconsistencies we observed do not continue. The assistant to the sheriff agreed that a formal policy and training are reasonable, and he noted that it would not put an unmanageable burden on the unit.

It would also likely benefit Sacramento to review a selection of files regularly to ensure that applications are being processed in accordance with stated expectations. The assistant to the sheriff explained that during most of our audit period, the CCW unit staff would verify training documentation before issuing a license to an applicant. However, our testing of 25 issued licenses showed that verification of documents' alignment with Sacramento's expectations would be beneficial. The department's current application review process includes review by a panel of two captains and a chief, yet when we spoke with one of the longer‑serving panel members at the time we began our audit, he indicated that for most applications, the panel only reviews a summary of the information in the file and it performs a more detailed review of applications only if staff indicate possible reasons not to approve the application. Therefore, the panel review is not an adequate check on whether the type of documentation that Sacramento collects is consistent across all CCW applications. We believe Sacramento could achieve greater consistency in its licensing process by adopting a second-level review of application files performed by the assistant to the sheriff. By doing so, the department would better adhere to its standards for issuing CCW licenses under the broad discretion that state law vests in the department.

Weaknesses in San Diego's Renewal Process Led to Inappropriately Renewed Licenses

We found that San Diego issued some of the initial and renewed licenses we reviewed without obtaining documentation that demonstrated that the applicants had satisfied its residency, training, and good cause requirements. San Diego has specific requirements for the type of documentation that applicants must submit to demonstrate that they reside within the county and have completed a training course. Further, San Diego makes specific document requests to applicants based on the good cause category under which the applicant applies. For example, applicants who are applying for business-related purposes may be asked to provide proof that their business is legitimate and fully credentialed or that they deposit large amounts of cash. For cases in which documents did not align with its policies, San Diego—much like Sacramento—often had other evidence in the application files that provided some level of assurance that the applicants met its standards for CCW licenses.

However, San Diego's renewal process has weaknesses that have led it to renew some licenses inappropriately. Specifically, the department allows staff the discretion to issue a renewed CCW license without supervisory approval if the applicant's good cause remains the same and the applicant has not had any contact with law enforcement. In the most serious instance we found, the department did not collect documentation to demonstrate residency, good cause for a license, or the applicant's signature on the application for one of the 10 renewed license files we reviewed, yet it renewed this individual's license in July 2015. When we asked the licensing manager about this file, she confirmed that the clerk should have waited to issue the license until the applicant had provided all of the required documentation and that this error was most likely the result of a new clerk's not following the department's practices and procedures. However, upon further review, we found that when the applicant came back to renew the license again in June 2017, San Diego still did not obtain sufficient documentation from him to satisfy its residency requirement or the business tax certificate that the department had requested to support his good cause requirement. Like the applicants whose files we discuss later in this section, in 2017 he also submitted only one document that aligned with San Diego's residency requirement. According to the licensing manager, the clerk who renewed the license the second time was still in training, and this clerk should have obtained a current, valid business tax certificate. She then stated that after we brought this issue to the department's attention, the clerk contacted the individual and expects that he will soon be mailing his current business license to the department.

A file found during our review of revocations at San Diego also highlights another problem with the department's renewal process. In this case, in response to a federal request for information about an individual, San Diego reviewed his CCW file and found a "disturbing and reoccurring pattern of violence" on his part. A review panel then decided to revoke his CCW license, and the notes associated with that revocation indicate that the application should have been reviewed by a supervisor at the time of renewal because of the negative contact the applicant had with law enforcement.

As previously mentioned, when we spoke with the licensing manager about one of these cases, she indicated that staff experience level was a contributing cause towards the failure to collect adequate documentation. However, the level of discretion that San Diego allows its clerks leaves San Diego at a higher risk for inappropriate renewals such as those we found during our review. Although additional training for its clerks on how to process a CCW license renewal could likely benefit San Diego, the department would also benefit from a supervisory review of a selection of files. Performing such a review, which could target the licenses renewed by less-experienced employees, could provide additional assurance that San Diego is not renewing CCW licenses when the applicant has not provided sufficient proof of residency, good cause, or has had negative contact with law enforcement.

Beyond problems specific to San Diego's renewed licenses, we found other instances in which the department processed applications without obtaining sufficient documentation that aligned with its policy and procedures. Among the 25 initial and renewal applications we reviewed, we found that problems with residency documents were the most common issue. San Diego requires applicants to provide two proofs of residency—such as a utility bill, lease agreement, or property tax statement dated within 30 days of the application date—that list the applicant's name, mailing address and address where he or she received the utility service. However, 11 of the 25 files we reviewed did not meet this requirement. In eight of these files, at least one residency proof that the applicant submitted was not dated within San Diego's 30-day time frame, instead ranging from two to 64 days past the 30-day limit. The remaining three cases were the renewal license discussed earlier, for which San Diego did not collect any documents related to residency, or good cause and two instances in which the applicants only provided one adequate residency proof. According to the licensing manager, although having two proofs of residency is required, if a clerk can verify residency using other supporting documentation, such as a DMV report or the county assessor's property record, then a clerk has the discretion to approve the application. Although in most of these 11 cases San Diego had some of the documentation that it requires applicants to submit, it had less assurance in these cases than in other cases that the applicants met the residency requirement.

Further, for one file we reviewed, rather than submitting evidence of completing the required firearm training, the applicant—an active duty member of the Coast Guard—submitted evidence of a qualifying shoot from the Coast Guard. However, on its website, San Diego informs applicants they must complete a firearm training course from an approved vendor. Although the individual did not submit evidence of such a training, San Diego issued the individual a license in February 2016. When we asked the licensing manager about this file, she provided us with a memo from December 2015 that she issued to the licensing unit, which explained that active peace officers were exempt from the firearms training requirement and that the unit should accept proof of a recent qualifying shoot from the individual's employing agency. However, the Coast Guard applicant does not fall under the exceptions outlined in this memo. State law prescribes that firearms training for CCW licensure must address firearm safety and the law regarding the permissible use of a firearm. When San Diego issues licenses without evidence that applicants attended such a training, it does so without adequate assurance that it has followed the requirements of state law.

Finally, we found that in three of the 25 files we reviewed, San Diego requested more documentation to support an individuals' good cause than it would later determine was necessary for issuance. These instances are not violations of San Diego's policy, which allows clerks to use discretion in deciding what documentation is required. San Diego relies on its clerks to request documents from applicants based on an initial interview. In one of the three cases, San Diego requested that an applicant submit 11 documents, such as a business permit and statements showing cash deposits, to support his good cause for a CCW license. However, the applicant did not submit one of the 11 items requested—the articles of incorporation for his business. Although the applicant did not fully comply with San Diego's request for documents, San Diego issued him a CCW license. The licensing manager indicated that certain business-related documents were more essential to an applicant proving good cause than others. For example, she described that some business-related documents, such as a business license, must be renewed more regularly than others.

We noted that the practice of asking for documents that may not have been essential to proving good cause was not unique to these three instances. Two other files we reviewed show that San Diego asked for 10 or more documents related to a business-related good cause, some of which were the same as the documents the department requested and did not receive in the other three cases. This, combined with the licensing manager's perspective that not all documents are equally important, leads us to believe that San Diego could benefit from evaluating its current expectations for good cause documentation and setting standards for the type of documents that is sufficient to satisfy its requirement. By modifying its procedures and training its staff to clarify the amount and type of documentation staff should request from applicants, San Diego can better ensure it is treating applicants consistently and avoid asking them to obtain documents that the department considers unnecessary.

San Diego Did Not Always Revoke Licenses When Required, and Both It and Sacramento Failed to Notify Justice of All Their License Revocations

Although state law requires licensing authorities to revoke CCW licenses when license holders become prohibited persons, San Diego did not do so in all cases. State law requires that when a licensing authority determines one of its license holders is a prohibited person or when Justice notifies a licensing authority of this fact, the authority must revoke the license and notify Justice of the revocation. To determine whether the sheriffs' departments we audited complied with state law, we reviewed their responses to up to 10 notices that Justice sent to them as of June 28, 2017. In Sacramento, we reviewed 10 notices, and in San Diego we reviewed all four notices Justice had sent to the department. We found that Sacramento revoked the related licenses in all 10 cases we reviewed, but San Diego only revoked two of the four licenses. We did not review any instances at Los Angeles because Justice's records indicated that it had not sent any notices to that department during our audit period.

When we asked San Diego's licensing manager why her unit did not revoke two of the four licenses Justice notified it of, she stated that it was because the license holders had already surrendered their licenses. She believed that once a license is surrendered, it is no longer active and that accepting a surrendered license is effectively the same as revoking the license. San Diego asserted that it was not required to revoke these two licenses because they were no longer active at the time the department received the notification from Justice. However, the portions of state law that create CCW licensing requirements do not establish that a license is inactive simply because the licensee is no longer in possession of the license. Further, although San Diego reported all of its revocations to Justice, it did not always report when it accepted a surrendered license, including in these two instances. Because state law requires licensing authorities to revoke the licenses of prohibited persons and report those revocations to Justice, San Diego should still revoke the licenses of prohibited persons, even if it has already accepted the licenses as surrendered to ensure it complies with state law and reports to Justice.

Additionally, we determined that San Diego failed to revoke a third prohibited person's license. Although this person was not among the four we originally reviewed, we observed during our review of files that one of San Diego's licensees was convicted of a felony in February 2017. This conviction made the individual a prohibited person, and San Diego should have revoked the license. When we asked San Diego why it did not revoke the license in this case, the licensing manager stated that the department had already suspended the individual's license when he was arrested. San Diego's procedures describe its suspension process as similar to its revocation process, and they provide the example that the department will suspend a license if it is waiting for the final outcome of a court case. Although it was true the department suspended the license in this particular case and notified Justice of the suspension, San Diego should have revoked the license because the license holder had become prohibited. Among the three departments we reviewed, San Diego was the only one we observed that had a practice of suspending CCW licenses.

Sacramento did not consistently comply with state law when reporting its revocations to Justice. State law requires licensing authorities to report to Justice when they revoke licenses. We found that among the 10 revocations we reviewed in Sacramento, the department failed to report eight of them to Justice. According to the assistant to the sheriff, reporting to Justice is redundant in cases where Justice has already instructed the department to revoke the licenses. Nonetheless, state law requires licensing authorities to report to Justice when it revokes licenses. Further, the notification Justice sends to licensing authorities specifically states that Justice must be notified in writing about the revocation. When Sacramento does not report to Justice that it has revoked licenses, Justice does not know that Sacramento revoked the license and therefore cannot adequately track CCW license holders throughout the State.

We found that San Diego reported to Justice when it revoked licenses, but it did not report the two surrendered licenses that we discuss earlier in this section as well as five others we found during our review. Although the portion of state law that requires licensing authorities to report revocations to Justice does not require licensing authorities to report surrendered licenses, Justice would prefer to be notified of those surrenders. The director of Justice's bureau of firearms stated that Justice did want licensing authorities to report these actions to it. According to San Diego's licensing manager, the state law related to CCW licenses does not require the department to report surrendered licenses to Justice, and the department did not know until the time of our audit that Justice would like to receive this information. However, when San Diego does not report all inactivated licenses to Justice—regardless of whether the license was revoked, suspended, or surrendered—it withholds valuable information from the State's lead law enforcement agency about who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

Sacramento Did Not Inform Applicants of Denied Licenses of Which Requirement They Did Not Meet

San Diego and Los Angeles processed the 15 denied license applications we reviewed at each location in accordance with their policies. Similarly, even though Sacramento did not have written procedures, it generally denied applicants for reasons its staff explained to us at the outset of our audit. In two cases, Sacramento's reasons for denial were not the same as those staff had initially explained, but we did not have concerns about this given the broad discretion that state law provides to the sheriff over issuance decisions. However, Sacramento did not comply with state law's denial requirements for any of the denials we reviewed because it did not state which criterion was unmet in its correspondence with the applicant regarding the denial. State law requires licensing authorities to provide written notice to applicants indicating whether a license is denied and in those cases it also requires the written notice to include a statement of which requirement has not been met. Sacramento's assistant to the sheriff acknowledged that the denial letters the department sent to CCW applicants during our audit period did not specify a reason, but he could not speak to why the information was not included because decisions about what content the letters included were made before he began overseeing the program. Nevertheless, the law requires licensing authorities to state which requirement that applicants did not meet.

Sacramento has since changed its practice, but its new denial letters still do not always meet the requirement of the law. By July 2017, during the course of our audit, Sacramento modified its denial letters to include a reason why the applicant was denied a CCW license. According to the assistant to the sheriff, the issue came to his attention when he was reviewing the law related to CCW licenses and he adjusted the department's practices to include a reason why the department denied the permit. We reviewed six denial letters sent to applicants after he adjusted Sacramento's practices and found that only one included an explanation that met the requirement in state law. Specifically, only one provided the requirement that the applicant failed to meet. Most of the others stated that the denial reason was "criminal history" and provided a citation to the section of state law that details the issuance criteria for CCW licenses. This information is insufficient under the law because simply stating that the applicant was denied because of criminal history does not indicate a failed requirement such as good cause.

The assistant to the sheriff disagrees with our conclusion that the department's new denial letters do not always comport to the requirements in state law. He believes that a reference to criminal history as the reason for denying a CCW license is sufficient information for the applicant to understand and appeal if he or she desires to do so. However, the information in the letters we reviewed is not sufficient based on the plain language of state law, which requires licensing authorities to provide a statement of the requirement that was unmet. For example, the applicant cannot know from that information alone what about their criminal history the sheriff objected to, and criminal history is not one of the four key criteria for issuing a license.

Although Sacramento has taken some steps toward resolving the deficiencies in its denial letters, it has not yet ensured that it always complies with state law. If it further defined the type of information it expects its investigators to include in denial letters, Sacramento would be more likely to avoid such instances. Without being informed which requirement they did not meet, applicants cannot know what additional information to provide the department to appeal the denial effectively. The assistant to the sheriff informed us it is Sacramento's practice to allow denied applicants the opportunity to appeal. However, during our review, we found a letter to the department from an applicant stating that he could not reasonably initiate an appeal without knowing the specific reason for the denial. This example highlights the importance of complying with the law and providing applicants information about the specific requirement they did not meet when they are denied a CCW license.

Despite Widely Differing Issuance Practices for CCW Licenses, the Local Discretion Established by Current State Law Has No Apparent Bad Effect

As we discussed in the previous sections, each licensing authority we reviewed applied the requirements of state law concerning CCW licenses differently. Such different approaches are permissible under the broad discretion that state law grants licensing authorities in interpreting key requirements such as good cause and good moral character. However, these inconsistent approaches have led some to argue that state law should not grant such discretion to local authorities. For example, some have argued that the lack of a definition of good cause has resulted in the unequal application of state law across the State and an arbitrary denial of CCW licenses to many Californians. Others have asserted that the sheer number of permits issued shows a lack of appropriate scrutiny. Further, some have pointed to the number of revoked licenses as evidence that licensing authorities have not properly issued licenses. Nevertheless, after reviewing the departments' policies and practices and analyzing each department's issuance statistics, we did not identify a bad effect from the varying approaches taken by the three sheriffs' departments we reviewed that would lead us to conclude that state law needs to be changed to clarify the issuance criteria for CCW licenses.

Under the discretion that state law allows, the three departments have issued different numbers of licenses. As we show in Table 4, Sacramento issued a far larger number of CCW licenses than did San Diego or Los Angeles during our audit period despite the fact that Sacramento's jurisdiction covers fewer potential license applicants than does either of the other two departments. This difference is partially the result of Sacramento's interpretation of the good cause requirement in state law, which accepts an applicant's statement that he or she desires to protect himself or herself or family as sufficient good cause for a CCW license. In contrast, Los Angeles's policy and San Diego's policy related to licenses for personal protection both require that an applicant provide evidence of danger to satisfy the good cause requirement. Therefore, applicants can more easily satisfy the good cause requirement in Sacramento than in San Diego or Los Angeles. Although more than one factor affects whether an applicant is granted a CCW license at any of the three licensing authorities we reviewed, we believe it is Sacramento's interpretation of the good cause requirement that is the most likely reason for its higher number of licenses issued.

However, it does not necessarily follow that a higher rate of license issuance results in a harmful effect because of local discretion. In fact, despite their differing approaches to CCW licensing, the sheriffs in Sacramento and San Diego and the undersheriff in Los Angeles all observed that the needs of local jurisdictions vary and agreed that the law provides those jurisdictions the ability to set their CCW policies accordingly. San Diego's sheriff noted that individuals in other counties with fewer deputies and larger geographical areas may have a greater need for personal protection because of slower response times from law enforcement. That perspective illustrates how adopting a more restrictive definition of good cause for a license might have unintended consequences across the State because the conditions that would justify carrying a concealed weapon might vary greatly across the State. We found differences in local conditions to be a reasonable explanation for why licensing authorities would issue CCW licenses at a rate that does not necessarily correspond to their population. Accordingly, the variance in the number of licenses issued among licensing authorities does not necessarily indicate that the law should be changed.

Similarly, the number of revoked licenses is not sufficient on its own to determine that the issuance criteria in state law need to be clarified. Among the three licensing authorities we reviewed, only Sacramento and San Diego revoked CCW licenses during our audit period. As Table 4 shows, Sacramento revoked many more licenses during this period than did San Diego. However, a revoked license is not necessarily evidence that a licensing authority erred in issuing the license. State law requires licenses to be revoked when the licensee becomes prohibited by federal or state law from possessing, receiving, owning, or purchasing a firearm. Prohibiting events—which could occur after a department initially issues a license—include a variety of criminal and mental health-related events, such as a felony conviction for robbery or an involuntary placement in a mental health facility. In these cases, we cannot conclude that the prohibiting event is evidence that the individual was incorrectly granted a CCW license at the time of application. In other words, a present-day conviction that prohibits an individual from keeping the CCW license is not necessarily evidence that the applicant was not qualified at the time of licensure. For example, in addition to the reviewed revocations we discussed in an earlier section, we reviewed four revocations in Sacramento that came to our attention because in each case Sacramento had revoked a CCW license after the license holder had a serious criminal or mental health event. Although we found some instances among these four files in which the residency documents in the application file did not align with Sacramento's current expectations, these exceptions do not relate to the events that occurred later that led to Sacramento revoking these licenses.

Further, the number of licenses revoked could be higher as a result of locally initiated revocations. Nothing in the state law related to CCW licenses prevents licensing authorities from revoking licenses based on the license holder's conduct even when the holder has not had a prohibiting event. For example, Sacramento sometimes revoked licenses when the license holder was arrested for DUI. Although this does not appear on Justice's list of prohibiting events, it is a condition that under Sacramento's practices prohibits someone from being eligible for a CCW license. Accordingly, we conclude that the number of revoked licenses could actually be higher because a licensing authority was more active in monitoring its license holders and revoking licenses even when such a revocation was not strictly required by law. In fact, among the licenses revoked during our audit period, both Sacramento and San Diego revoked or suspended more licenses as a result of local decisions—such as Sacramento's DUI‑related revocations—than they did as a result of notices from Justice that license holders had become prohibited persons.

Additionally, we asked each of the three licensing authorities whether they believed that public safety was at risk because of the disparity in how local licensing authorities interpret the four key criteria for CCW license issuance. Each representative we spoke with—the sheriffs in Sacramento and San Diego and the undersheriff in Los Angeles—told us that the differing interpretations of state law did not make them concerned for public safety in their jurisdiction and they had not noticed any bad effect in their jurisdiction that could be attributed to another licensing authority's different interpretation of state law. San Diego's sheriff noted that despite differing issuance criteria, CCW license holders must still undergo a rigorous process to receive a license. We found that local implementation of that process could be improved at each of the three locations we reviewed; however, after looking at the rate of issuance and the rate of revocation, and considering the factors that affect each of those conditions when combined with the perspective of the local licensing authorities, we could identify no direct bad effect from the different approaches each has taken in implementing state law's CCW licensing requirements. Finally, state law establishes the issuance of CCW licenses as a local control issue. The ultimate discretion to issue a license rests with sheriffs and chiefs of police departments. Therefore, to the extent that citizens do not approve of the issuance policies that are employed by their respective sheriff or police chief, they can elect a different sheriff or demand a change in law enforcement leadership.


To ensure that its CCW licensing decisions align with its CCW policy, Los Angeles should only issue licenses to applicants after collecting documentation of specific, personal threats against the applicants so as to satisfy its definition of good cause. If Los Angeles believes that its public licensing policy does not include all acceptable good causes for a CCW license, then by March 2018 it should revise that policy and publish the new policy on its website. It should then immediately begin processing applications according to that revised policy.

To ensure that it only issues licenses to individuals after receiving evidence of residency, firearms training, and good moral character that aligns with its policy, Los Angeles should only issue licenses after verifying that it has received this evidence. To avoid overlooking required evidence, Los Angeles should create procedures by March 2018 for its staff to follow to ensure that each CCW file contains the evidence its policy requires before issuing the license.

To ensure that staff are gathering consistent evidence from applicants to demonstrate residency, good moral character, and firearms training and are including which requirement applicants did not meet in its denial letters, by March 2018 Sacramento should create formal CCW processing procedures and train its staff to follow these procedures. These procedures should require staff to gather and evaluate the information the department believes is required to demonstrate that each of the criteria for a CCW license has been met, and they should also require staff to include which requirement applicants did not meet in its denial letters.

To ensure that staff are following its newly established procedures and to identify any need for additional guidance, by March 2018 Sacramento should establish a review process wherein it regularly reviews a selection of license files and denied applications to determine whether its staff are collecting sufficient and consistent documentation in accordance with its policies and are appropriately including which requirement applicants did not meet in its denial letters.

To ensure that its staff appropriately renew CCW licenses, by March 2018 San Diego should establish a routine supervisory review of a selection of renewed licenses.

To ensure that it consistently obtains sufficient evidence to demonstrate that an applicant satisfies its requirements for a license, by March 2018 San Diego should develop guidance and train its staff on what good cause documentation staff should request from applicants. Further, it should train its staff regarding the expected documents for residency and training.

To ensure that it provides all required information to Justice, Sacramento should immediately inform Justice when it revokes a CCW license, including when it receives a prohibition notice from Justice.

To ensure that it follows state law's requirements for revoking licenses, San Diego should immediately revoke CCW licenses and should then inform Justice that it has revoked licenses whenever license holders become prohibited persons. Additionally, San Diego should notify Justice when it suspends a license or a license is surrendered.

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Chapter 2

The CCW Programs in the Counties We Reviewed Have Limited Fiscal Impact, and State Law Should Be Clarified Concerning Maximum Fees for CCW Licenses

Although the three sheriffs' departments we reviewed charge application processing fees for CCW licensing, these fees do not appear to cover the costs of the programs. However, any deficits associated with the CCW programs are likely to have a very minimal adverse effect on overall county budgets because they represent a very small percentage of those budgets. Although the departments' CCW programs likely run a deficit, only Sacramento tracks its CCW program expenditures and could identify its total deficit. The other two departments—Los Angeles and San Diego—do not specifically track CCW expenditures. However, using the CCW-specific information in Sacramento and the expenditure information related to the administrative units that process CCW licenses at the other two departments, we determined that program expenditures as a whole at all three locations represent a tiny percentage of the overall county budgets. Nevertheless, each department could improve its approach to the fees it charges. Doing so in Los Angeles would improve the department's compliance with the fee requirements set by state law, which allows licensing authorities to charge a fee equal to the amount of their actual costs up to $100 and which can be increased at a rate not to exceed the California Consumer Price Index (CCPI). In Sacramento and San Diego, because we can reasonably infer that the departments are charging fees less than their costs, maximizing the fee that each department collects could increase fee revenue in each location. Finally, licensing authorities have interpreted state law related to the maximum allowable CCW fees differently. Because of this situation, we believe that clarifying state law concerning the maximum fees allowed would be beneficial.

At the Three Departments We Reviewed, the Relative Sizes of CCW Programs Makes Them Unlikely to Have Significant Impacts on County Budgets

At all three of the licensing authorities we reviewed, CCW programs constituted a very small proportion of the overall department and county budgets. For Sacramento, the only entity for which we were able to determine a specific deficit amount, the CCW deficit had a negligible impact on the department's cost to the county. Los Angeles and San Diego do not separately track CCW expenditures; instead they track the expenditures of the larger departmental units that manage their CCW programs. However, the expenditures of these units were similarly small in comparison to the total department and county expenditures. As a result, the CCW programs at Los Angeles and San Diego likely have even less of a fiscal impact on department and county budgets than at Sacramento.

Two of the Three Licensing Authorities Cannot Readily Determine Whether Their CCW Programs Operate at a Surplus or Deficit

Los Angeles does not specifically track CCW-related expenditures, and therefore it cannot readily determine whether its costs are greater than the revenue it receives from CCW fees. According to the manager of special accounts in its Financial Programs Bureau, the department does not track expenditures for CCW licenses. Instead, it organizes its budget across 11 broad budget units, which contain divisions or programs. One of these units—the administration budget unit—contains the Office of the Undersheriff, which processes CCW applications. Neither the staff in Los Angeles's CCW program nor its fiscal staff were able to provide us with a cost study showing how much each CCW license costs to process or any documentation that contained its annual CCW expenditures, so we were unable to calculate whether the CCW program is operating at a surplus or deficit. According to its CCW manager, most of Los Angeles's CCW expenditures are staffing costs. The CCW manager confirmed the part-time nature of her CCW-related duties as well as that of the only other staff member who spends a comparable amount of time on the program. According to the director of the financial programs bureau, the CCW program's expenditures have not risen to the level of something significant enough that the department has wanted to specifically track the extent of costs and time for the program. As shown in Table 5, from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2016–17, revenues from CCW fees for Los Angeles ranged between about $10,000 to almost $12,000. Given the level of revenue, Los Angeles's expenditures would have to be very low for its program not to operate at a deficit.

San Diego also does not specifically track CCW-related expenditures, leaving it unable to verify whether its CCW program is operating at a surplus or deficit. However, San Diego does track the expenditures of its licensing unit, which processes CCW license applications along with many other types of licenses such as licenses for taxicab companies or bingo licenses. According to San Diego's budget finance officer, the CCW program funding comes from the fees it charges along with unrestricted county general fund money, and therefore there is no requirement for San Diego to track CCW expenditures. A fiscal year 2016–17 expenditure report for San Diego's entire licensing unit indicates that the primary expenditures for the unit are related to staffing. However, according to the licensing manager, although the unit tracks the time staff spend conducting initial interviews with CCW applicants, this is not a listing of the full staff costs for CCW licenses.

Table 5
CCW-Related Revenue for Los Angeles and San Diego

Fiscal Year Los Angeles San Diego*
2014–15 $11,390 $17,580
2015–16 11,880 15,540
2016–17 10,150 23,210
Totals $33,420 $56,330

Sources: California State Auditor's analysis of unaudited financial reports from San Diego's Oracle E-Business Suite financial management system and financial reports from Los Angeles County's eCAPS financial system.

* We did not include any revenue San Diego labeled as related to reserve officer licenses because the information we present for Los Angeles did not include such revenue, and our audit did not focus on licenses issued to reserve officers. However, a senior accountant at San Diego indicated that in approximately November 2015, the department instructed its staff to be more consistent in the labels used to identify revenue. Therefore, it is possible that our revenue totals include revenue related to reserve officer licenses that we were not able to identify due to insufficient labeling.

San Diego's revenue in fiscal year 2016–17 included $3,830 that San Diego did not account for in a previous year. We identified this revenue during our review of the fiscal year 2016–17 revenue report that San Diego provided. We confirmed with San Diego fiscal staff that this revenue was from fiscal year 2015–16, but we report it in fiscal year 2016–17 because this was the year in which the department accounted for it.

We determined that San Diego's CCW program is likely operating at a deficit. San Diego conducted a cost study in fiscal year 2011–12, which estimated that the department spent more than $2,700 to process an initial CCW application. Given this estimated cost and the revenue San Diego collects for each issued license, which is $63, even if San Diego's costs were one-tenth of what the cost study estimated in fiscal year 2011–12, which would be about $270, its per‑license costs would still be greater than its per-license revenue. As shown in Table 5, San Diego's total annual CCW revenue ranged from just over $15,500 to $23,200 over the three-year period we reviewed. Like Los Angeles, San Diego would need to keep its CCW costs fairly low for its program to be cost-neutral. We observed that some of San Diego's CCW application files contain more than 100 pages of documentation that an analyst had reviewed before issuing the license, making it unlikely that San Diego is able to keep the total cost for processing an initial application below its per-license revenue of $63. Finally, based on financial reports San Diego provided, its entire licensing unit had a deficit in each year from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2016–17. Therefore, although San Diego's expenditure tracking does not allow us to conclude that its CCW program operates at a deficit, we believe it likely that the CCW program costs the department more than it generates from fees.

In contrast to Los Angeles and San Diego, Sacramento does track its CCW-related expenditures. As shown in Table 6, Sacramento's CCW program has operated at a deficit that has ranged from about $160,000 to more than $275,000 annually from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2016–17. Based on the financial reports that Sacramento's chief of Departmental Administrative Services (administrative services chief) provided, almost all of the department's CCW expenditures in fiscal year 2016–17 came from staffing-related costs. The assistant to the sheriff indicated that Sacramento staffs its CCW program with one full-time staff member and several part-time retired annuitants from its extra help pool. According to the administrative services chief, the department pays for a large portion of its extra help costs by using salary savings. She further explained that if funding is needed beyond what the salary savings can cover, the department uses savings from other budget categories, such as fuel costs. She stated that she does not actually transfer funds when she uses salary savings to pay for funding shortages in the CCW program, so no specific record of using salary savings to cover CCW deficits exists. However, Sacramento's fiscal records show that in each year of our audit period, it had enough savings in salary-related budget categories to cover the CCW deficits. The assistant to the sheriff told us he sees the CCW program as a mandated service and that any revenue generated to support the program is a positive for the department. In addition, the department as a whole was more than $9 million under budget for general fund expenditures in fiscal year 2016–17. Nonetheless, even though it can cover the deficits in its CCW program through savings, by using these resources in this way, Sacramento cannot use them for other purposes.

Table 6
Sacramento's CCW Licensing Program Had a Deficit in Each of the Last Three Fiscal Years

Fiscal Year
2014–15 2015–16 2016–17
Expenditures $483,140 $504,820 $597,330
Revenues 322,820 229,380 383,440
Surplus/(Deficit) ($160,320) ($275,440) ($213,890)

Source: California State Auditor's analysis of unaudited financial reports from Sacramento County's COMPASS system.

All Three Licensing Authorities' CCW Programs Have Very Small Effects on Their Counties' Budgets

We found that Sacramento's CCW program expenditures represented only a fraction of 1 percent of both the department's budget and of the entire Sacramento County budget. For example, in fiscal year 2016–17, CCW program expenditures represented 0.13 percent of total department expenditures and an even smaller percentage, 0.03 percent, of the total Sacramento County general fund expenditures in that year. This demonstrates that overall, Sacramento's CCW program likely has a negligible impact on the county budget. Although the program operated at a deficit in each fiscal year from 2014–15 through 2016–17, the assistant to the sheriff believes that the deficit is very minor compared to the department's total expenditures. This seems to be true at the county level as well. If the program had been revenue-neutral—program revenues equaling program expenditures—in fiscal year 2015–16, the year in our audit period in which the program deficit was the highest, it would only have reduced Sacramento's overall cost to the county by about 0.1 percent. Additionally, Sacramento spent less than its budgeted general fund expenditures in each year of our three-year audit period. Nevertheless, as we show later, Sacramento could reduce its CCW program deficits by increasing its CCW fees.

It is also unlikely that any deficits in Los Angeles or San Diego have a significant effect on their respective county's budgets given that San Diego spent less than its budgeted general fund expenditures in each fiscal year of our three-year audit period and Los Angeles had the same condition in two of the three fiscal years. For example, San Diego's licensing division, which is responsible for CCW licenses, represents a very small portion of San Diego's overall expenditures: 0.23 percent of the department's expenditures in fiscal year 2016–17 and 0.05 percent of the county's expenditures. At Los Angeles, the CCW program is housed within the Office of the Undersheriff. That office's total expenditures—which include expenditures for such activities as managing the department's personnel and budget resources and overseeing the activities of the assistant sheriffs—constituted only 0.11 percent of the department's expenditures and 0.02 percent of the county's total expenditures for fiscal year 2016–17.

All Three Sheriffs' Departments Charged Initial License Fees Within Allowable Maximums, but the State Should Clarify the Maximum Allowable Fee

All three sheriffs' departments charged fees for initial CCW licenses that were below the maximum amount allowed by state law. State law allows licensing authorities to charge a processing fee equal to the actual costs of processing a license application up to a maximum of $100. However, the law also permits licensing authorities to raise this fee beyond the $100 limit, consistent with the rise in the CCPI since 1999. Even though none of the three departments we reviewed charged more than $100 as an application processing fee, we found others throughout the State that do charge more than $100. However, one of the departments we reviewed—Sacramento—asserted that it cannot raise its application processing fee above $100. Although we believe that the law allows licensing authorities to raise their application processing fee beyond $100, the disparity we found in license fees points to a need for clarification to state law.

The Sheriffs' Departments We Reviewed Charged Initial CCW License Fees That Were Below the Maximum That State Law Allows

The three departments we reviewed charged fees for initial CCW licenses within the maximum allowable amount under state law. In 1998 the Legislature amended state law to allow licensing authorities to charge a fee equal to the amount of their actual costs for processing an application for a new license, up to a maximum of $100; this law went into effect on January 1, 1999. Before this change, state law had limited the application processing fee to $3. In addition to increasing the maximum fee, the Legislature also amended the law to allow licensing authorities to increase their application fee above $100 but at a rate not to exceed the rate of the CCPI. State law also allows licensing authorities to collect up to 20 percent of the application processing fee upon filing of the initial application; the authorities may only collect the balance of the fee when they issue the license. In addition to an initial application fee, the law allows licensing authorities to charge up to $25 for processing a renewal application and up to $10 for an amendment to a license, irrespective of the actual cost of these processes. These fees may also be increased at a rate consistent with the CCPI. Table 7 shows the fees that Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego currently charge for each of these CCW-related activities.

Table 7
Fees Charged by Each Department for Processing CCW Licenses

Los Angeles Sacramento San Diego
Initial license application $66 $100 $63
License renewal 39 25 21.50
License amendment 0 10 10

Sources: California State Auditor's review of published fee schedules at Sacramento and San Diego as well as internal documents about fees and interviews with the CCW manager at Los Angeles.

Los Angeles currently charges an initial license processing fee of $66, which is below the maximum fee state law established. It also charges $39 for license renewals—which is below the CCPI-adjusted maximum allowed by state law as of 2017—but it does not charge for amending a license. We discuss in an earlier section how Los Angeles did not specifically track expenditures related to its CCW program. Provided that its costs to process an initial application are less than or equal to $66, the amount of its processing fee is appropriate. However, Los Angeles had been charging three unallowable fees in addition to its processing fee. Although state law allows licensing authorities to charge an application processing fee, it prohibits them from requiring the payment of additional funds—through fees, assessments, charges, or any other condition that requires the payment of additional funds by the applicant as a condition of processing the application for a license. Despite this prohibition, Los Angeles was charging $12 for fingerprinting, $2 for a photograph, and $29 for a local record check in addition to its $66 processing fee. Because it included these extra fees, Los Angeles was overcharging applicants for the CCW licenses it issued. When we questioned the allowability of these fees, Los Angeles's chief legal advisor stated that the department would stop charging the additional fees and that it intends to consult with the county's auditor-controller to implement a plan to reimburse persons who were charged fees in excess of $66. She also stated that the department would reassess its processing fee to ensure that it accurately reflects costs.

Our review of Los Angeles's fees found that the department lacked sufficient oversight to ensure that its fees are allowable. For example, none of the individuals we spoke with at the department knew how or when Los Angeles established its fee structure. An administrative services manager in Los Angeles's Financial Programs Bureau believed the department conducted a cost study to establish the processing fee but the department does not have a copy of the study. Furthermore, the CCW manager could not provide any documentation showing when or how fees had been established at their current levels. She explained that the individuals who would have known if or when the fees were changed have retired from the department. Without specific attention to its fee structure and the requirements of state law, Los Angeles is at a greater risk for charging unallowable CCW-related fees as it did during our audit period.

Sacramento charges applicants $100 for an initial license, $25 for a renewal, and $10 for amendments as state law allows, but its total program revenue is insufficient to cover the costs of the licensing program. According to the assistant to the sheriff, the department set the initial license fees and renewal fees to the maximum state law allows, but he could not locate historical documentation related to the setting of the fees. Furthermore, the sheriff believes that state law prohibits him from increasing these CCW fees beyond the amounts currently charged. We disagree with the sheriff's position on fee maximums for reasons we explain in the next section. By not increasing its fees, Sacramento has incurred a larger deficit in its CCW program than necessary.

Sacramento could reduce its CCW program deficit by increasing its CCW fees to the maximum extent possible under state law. To assess how increases to Sacramento's CCW fees for initial licenses and for renewals would have reduced its program deficits, we calculated the maximum possible fee and the maximum possible renewal fee the department could have charged during fiscal years 2014–15 through 2016–17. Because the department did not have a cost study, we assumed the cost to process an initial application was equal to or higher than the CCPI-adjusted maximum fee. In the case of renewals, we did not need to make a similar assumption because the law does not limit the renewal fee to the cost of processing. We also assumed that increased fees would not affect the number of applicants who applied for initial licenses or license renewals. We asked the assistant to the sheriff whether he believed a fee increase would reduce demand for licenses. In his opinion, raising the fee consistent with the increase in the CCPI would not reduce demand for licenses. Our analysis showed that if Sacramento had maximized its initial and renewal fees during our audit period, its revenue over the three‑year period would have been about $411,000 higher. We calculated this amount by multiplying the number of licenses Sacramento issued and renewed in each fiscal year by the difference between its current fees and the CCPI-adjusted maximum fees allowed by state law. Over the three years we reviewed, CCW program expenditures were greater than revenue in Sacramento by a total of about $650,000. This additional revenue would have decreased this deficit by over half—63 percent. We explained our calculation to the sheriff's assistant, who agreed with our method of developing a rough estimate of potential additional revenue, although he reiterated the department's position that it has already maximized its fees to the full extent of state law.

Finally, San Diego has a CCW fee of about $63 for an initial license application and $21.50 for an application to renew. Like Los Angeles, San Diego does not track the expenditures related to its CCW program. Assuming its costs to process an initial application are not less than $63, its fee would be appropriate. However, as we stated earlier, San Diego's fiscal year 2011–12 cost study estimated that it costs $2,700 to process an initial application. Therefore, it is likely San Diego's CCW program is operating at a deficit. Although its fees do not exceed the maximums established in state law, they are probably too low. Moreover, by charging less than the maximum allowable, San Diego is also incurring a larger deficit in its CCW program than may be necessary. San Diego last received approval from its county board of supervisors to raise its CCW fees in 2007. According to its licensing manager, the department is concerned that raising the fee too high could make obtaining a CCW license too expensive. However, as previously discussed, San Diego's own cost study determined that the department spends about $2,700 to process an initial CCW application. Applying the same assumptions as we did at Sacramento about actual costs and applicant demand for licenses, we calculated that by not increasing its fees, San Diego has forgone roughly $60,000 in revenue over the three years we audited. Although this amount is negligible in the overall budget, these funds still could have been used by the department for other purposes, such as purchasing needed equipment.

The State Should Clarify the Maximum Allowable CCW Fees

Licensing authorities vary in their interpretation of the state law that limits the maximum processing fee for initial and renewal applications and amendments to CCW licenses, leading to differences in the fees they charge. As we discussed previously, state law sets the maximum fee for initial CCW application licenses at up to $100 of its actual costs to process the application. In addition, state law allows licensing authorities to charge up to $25 for renewal applications and $10 for license amendments, such as a change of address on the license. Additionally, separate sections of state law allow licensing authorities to increase all three of these fees at a rate not to exceed the CCPI. Figure 3 uses a hypothetical scenario to demonstrate how state law governs the fee that licensing authorities may charge for an initial CCW license. We applied the CCPI to the $100 cap initially set by the Legislature in 1998 and determined that the maximum allowable fee as of 2017 would be approximately $156. However, as we noted, Sacramento's sheriff believes that the law prohibits charging an amount higher than $100 for initial application processing.

We disagree with Sacramento's interpretation of the law. The section of state law that allows licensing authorities to charge an application processing fee specifies that the authorities can charge a fee equal to their costs but not to exceed $100 for an initial application. We believe this allows a licensing authority to recover any amount of its actual costs up to the $100 limit. Once a licensing authority reaches the $100 limit on cost recovery, it can then continue to recover actual costs above $100, provided that it does not exceed the CCPI adjustment to the $100 limit. The license renewal and amendment fees are not subject to an actual cost constraint like the initial application processing fee is, but they too may be increased at a rate that does not exceed any increase in the CCPI. We believe that the Legislature's intention that licensing authorities could incrementally increase the amount they recovered through these fees beyond the initial limits of $100, $25, and $10, respectively, can be found in the legislative history of the bill that implemented the CCPI provisions. Specifically, the analyses of the bill describe that the changes to state law would allow for a cost‑of‑living increase to local application processing fees. However, by amending state law, the State can make it clearer to licensing authorities currently charging less than $100, $25, and $10 that they can raise their fees beyond these initially imposed limits.

Figure 3
A Model of How State Law Governs the Maximum Fee That Licensing Authorities May Charge for Processing an Initial CCW License Application

This figure shows a model of how state law governs the maximum fee that licensing authorities may charge for processing an initial CCW license application.

Source: California State Auditor's analysis of how Penal Code section 26190 and its requirements would affect a hypothetical licensing authority.

We noted that other licensing authorities we did not audit already appear to interpret state law in this way. We selected sheriffs' departments from six additional counties—Fresno, Humboldt, Monterey, Orange, San Bernardino, and Solano—that appeared to be charging more than $100 for an initial application processing fee according to their websites. One of these departments—Humboldt—was including the fees payable to Justice in the CCW fee reported on its website which, when eliminated, reduced its local fees to $100. Monterey charged a convenience fee, in addition to its $100 fee, similar to the convenience fee that we discuss in the next section.5 The four remaining departments were charging an initial application processing fee that exceeded $100. All of the licensing authorities we contacted charged a fee that was below the CCPI-adjusted maximum as of the most recently published CCPI information.

Until Recently, Sacramento Did Not Inform Applicants That They Can Avoid Additional Application Fees

Sacramento has been charging convenience and credit card fees to apply for CCW licenses without informing applicants that these fees are not mandatory. Since December 2016, Sacramento has used a third-party vendor to establish an online process where individuals can apply for a CCW license. To provide this service, Sacramento allows its vendor to collect a $4 convenience fee for both initial and renewal applications in addition to the application fee the department charges. In addition, individuals who apply online must pay a credit card processing fee, with the amount based on an agreed upon rate with a payment transaction company. As we describe previously, state law allows licensing authorities to collect an application processing fee. However, state law prohibits licensing authorities from imposing any condition that requires applicants to pay any additional fees as a condition of the application for a license. Nevertheless, Sacramento's website did not inform applicants that they could avoid the convenience and credit card fees by applying in person. In fact, a December 2016 press release from the department announced that applicants could submit initial paperwork and payment online through a web-based application without any mention that applicants could avoid using that system and the associated additional fees. As a result, applicants likely assumed that the department required the use of the online application system and payment of the additional fees to apply for a license.

According to the assistant to the sheriff, if applicants had called and inquired about not using this online system, the department would have informed them that they could visit the CCW office and complete a paper application in person. In this alternate process, the individual would not have to pay the convenience and credit card fees. However, the assistant to the sheriff stated that although this option existed, no applicants asked for an alternative to the online system. Because Sacramento decided to allow a third party to impose the online convenience charge on its applicants and because it failed to advertise alternatives to this process, applicants have borne unlawful additional fees since December 2016, amounting to a $4 increase in the initial portion of the $100 application cost—from $20 to $24.

In response to our discussions during August 2017, Sacramento added a paragraph to the application section of its website informing applicants that they can go to a department office to apply for a CCW license. The assistant to the sheriff acknowledged that some applicants may have thought the online application system was the only option available for applying for a CCW license, but he believed applicants would have called or emailed if they had questions about an alternative method. Now that Sacramento has made an alternative CCW application option clear, applicants can make an informed choice as to whether they wish to pay the convenience and credit card fees to apply for a license online.



The Legislature should amend state law to clarify that licensing authorities can increase fees for CCW applications, renewals, and modifications above $100, $25, and $10, the respective maximum amounts specified in state law, provided that the fee for an initial application does not exceed the authorities' actual costs and that the rate of increase for any of the fees does not exceed that of the CCPI.


To ensure that it is only charging fees that state law allows, Los Angeles should immediately cease charging applicants fees in addition to its license processing fee. Los Angeles should reimburse applicants who paid the unallowable fees. Further, if Los Angeles believes its license fee does not recover its entire cost of processing an initial application, it should complete a cost study and, if appropriate, revise its fee according to the results of that study and the maximum allowed fees under state law.

To ensure that it is maximizing allowable revenue from the CCW program and reducing its program deficits, Sacramento should perform a cost study of its initial application processing and, on completion of the study, immediately increase its CCW license fees and begin charging the maximum amounts allowable under state law.

To ensure that it maximizes allowable revenue from its CCW program, San Diego should immediately pursue increasing its initial, renewal, and amendment fees to the maximum amounts allowable under state law.

We conducted this audit under the authority vested in the California State Auditor by Section 8543 et seq. of the California Government Code and according to generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives specified in the Scope and Methodology section of the report. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

December 14, 2017

Bob Harris, MPP, Audit Principal
Brian D. Boone, CIA, CFE
Adrianna Brooks, MPP
Jessica Derebenskiy
Sean D. McCobb, MBA
Lauren A. Taylor, MPP

IT Audits:
Ben Ward, CISA, ACDA, Audit Principal
Lindsay Harris, MBA, CISA
Brandon A. Clift, CPA, CFE

Legal Counsel:
Stephanie Ramirez-Ridgeway, Chief Counsel
Kendra A. Nielsen, Senior Staff Counsel

For questions regarding the contents of this report, please contact
Margarita Fernández, Chief of Public Affairs, at 916.445.0255.


3 According to San Diego's licensing manager, a qualifying shoot is a training session that requires the applicant to demonstrate accuracy through live fire from different positions. Go back to text

4 Our random selection of 25 CCW licenses included two law enforcement officers—one former and one current—who, due to certain circumstances, applied for licenses through the public process rather than being able to carry concealed weapons due to their status as officers as is allowed by state law. Our review only included licenses Los Angeles issued through its public process. Go back to text

5 Although Monterey was not subject to our audit, we informed its staff that its $7 convenience fee constituted an unallowable additional fee. Go back to text

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