The California Rifle and Pistol Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, has released its “2014 Primary State & Sheriff Election Guide & Voting Recommendations,” giving at least one incumbent a grade that has some Santa Barbara gun rights activists scratching their heads and crying foul. The controversy is over giving a “C” rating (“supports some CRPA positions but is not consistently a pro-gun or pro-hunting candidate”) to Santa Barbara County incumbent Sheriff Bill Brown, rather than an “F” (“a vehement anti-gun candidate. If the candidate is an incumbent they always oppose gun owner’s rights and/or actively support or sponsor anti-gun and anti-hunting legislation”) for betraying gun owners, and actively and consistently sabotaging and setting back their rights.
Resentment against Brown has been long-simmering with locals who have lived under the sheriff’s authoritarian attitude against guns, ever since he somehow bamboozled NRA’s “Political Victory Fund” into giving him an “A’ grade and encouraging gun owner support to elect him to the county’s top law enforcement slot. What he did or said to maneuver an endorsement is unclear, and the association isn’t giving details, but members who had no reason not to trust the familiar orange postcards also had no reason not to believe Brown was someone who was going to be respectful of their rights.
“It’s your freedom -- it’s your vote!” the October 11, 2006 postcard exhorted NRA members.
“Your National Rifle Association has endorsed Bill Brown,” the card declared, followed by a check mark next to the candidate’s name and the notice “‘A’ rated and NRA-PVF endorsed.”
Gun owners not only voted for Brown the following November 7, some actively supported him. That’s because warnings issued well before the election that Brown was really anti-gun were ignored by NRA, which never corrected itself and told members that their endorsement was unearned and wrong.
“Bill Brown said to me when I interviewed him on the phone that he does not believe any citizen living in the city should have the right to carry a gun,” one Santa Barbara activist informed NRA. “He does believe that people out in the rural areas that really need one should have one...if they can REALLY prove to him it is needed. He has only allowed one and that was a federal trapper that could not carry a loaded weapon while traveling in his vehicle.”
This was confirmed by Brown’s own public statements.
"With regard to CCWs, I don't believe in a blanket policy, i.e. I feel that Sheriffs and Police Chiefs need to have and should exercise discretion in issuing CCWs,” he said. “Circumstances vary. What works in a rural setting may not be appropriate in an urbanized area. I would continue my current policy, which is to issue CCWs sparingly if there is a valid reason (such as a credible threat against life, requirement due to profession, or similar circumstance."
NRA did nothing to qualify their endorsement or to modify their “A” rating, and Brown was elected. Asking for an explanation from them before Election Day resulted in calls not being returned by their California lobbyist, but did generate a nebulous email justification (not sent to me, but to a Santa Barbara gun owner who forwarded it) that was long on undocumented generalities and short on specifics.
“Our lobbyist has carefully evaluated Bill Brown's stand on the Second Amendment,” NRA’s email claimed. “In fact Bill Brown has worked with the NRA to defeat anti-gun legislation at the State Capitol. As for his opponent Sheriff Anderson, he never returned the questionnaire that the NRA-PVF sent to him. We assume that is because he is hostile to gun rights.”
That latter assumption is hardly the final word. And if their questionnaires are the only criteria, guess who else NRA once gave an “A” to. At least Jim Anderson issued some concealed carry permits based on citizens of good character requesting them, permits which “A”-rated Brown rescinded as soon as they expired. At least, unlike many California law enforcement politicians, Anderson didn’t exploit a Post Office shooting to demand more gun laws.
As a matter of record, and their rejection of Anderson notwithstanding, NRA refused to respond to specific questions about why Brown merited an “A” rating and endorsement. Perhaps Anderson didn’t merit consideration. Then again, it looks like no one did.
But with the damage done, fast forward to Brown now having the authority to put into practice the principles he ran for office on, and quick to show how he really felt about law-abiding gun owners.
When a politically-active gun owner who had questioned and made known Brown’s philosophy on concealed carry applied for a renewal of his permit, he was first required to sign a form acknowledging that fees would not be refundable for denied permits, and further acknowledge that “the license may be suspended or revoked at the Sheriff’s discretion, and I agree to surrender the license upon demand.”
That, of course, is exactly what happened.
“Based upon the information you have provided, it has been determined that there are insufficient grounds to support a current need to carry a concealed firearm and your license will not be renewed,” Brown subordinate Sgt. Larry Craig told the newly-terminated permit holder in a letter shortly after Brown assumed power. “This is also a reminder that your current license, which expired on February 18, 2007, is no longer valid.”
All that was missing was the implied “So there.”
And to further harass gun owners who wanted to try for a renewal anyway, Brown sent out a notice reminding current permit holders if they tried, he was going to continue a 2005 department policy requiring them to provide a “Letter of Cause” and “proof of ownership” for their firearms via a “record of sale or receipt,” and to submit “all weapons listed” to a “Safety Inspection by the Sheriff’s Department Range Master.” Again, while this was established by his predecessor, at least under Jim Anderson, gun owners who complied had a chance to get a permit.
In the wake of that, and after being contacted by numerous disillusioned and angry gun owners who realized they’d been misled, NRA’s position was to ignore them and clam up, and give members the runaround. Meanwhile, CCW renewal denials continued.
Plenty more documentation exists, multiple posts and pages at The War on Guns blog, but the point has been made except for this follow-up from June of 2009, selected quotes from a series of emails with a Santa Barbara gun rights advocate.
“I called the CRPA about five or six months ago in regards the CCW issue that I was reading about in the monthly magazine ‘The Firing Line,’" he related. “I was transferred to [their officer’s] voice mail, left a message and he called back about a week later. He said he wanted to come up and get together with us as the CRPA was going after sheriffs in towns that do not issue or deny CCWs. He said it was a hot agenda for the CRPA at this time. Well, it's been several phone calls over those months and no meeting yet. It keeps being put off.
A week after that email, I received a follow-up message from that gun owner informing me “I’m going to give him another phone call and point blank ask him if he is going to keep his word and come meet me.”
A week after that, another email was received advising “He is going to give it another week.”
Three weeks later, another email advised a meeting had taken place between the CRPA official, my correspondent and a few other interested parties, advising “He wants to help. We will see if we get any help. He also said he was going to look into why the NRA gave Bill Brown an A’ rating [and] he will talk to [the NRA rep.].
“We asked him to keep us informed,” my correspondent advised.
There was a second meeting, I am told, when some of the activists who were at the first were purposely not invited.
Evidently, their concerns were answered with no action and a “C’ now that Brown is running for reelection, rather than an earned and deserved “F,” ostensibly due to his answers on their questionnaire, as opposed to on his actual record. Remember, CRPA’s own criteria puts “and/or” between opposing gun owner rights and (or!) supporting/sponsoring anti-gun legislation. Just doing the first is enough reason to fail.
What could Brown have told them on the questionnaire? And why, knowing his actual practices, would it matter?
Hey, he’s “a big fan of guns,” he told the Santa Barbara Independent. He collects them and has even shot competitively over the years! If having and being proficient with firearms is the only criteria, perhaps Lon Horiuchi should run for office. It does raise the question of why any self-respecting proprietor wouldn’t tell Brown to leave his store or range.
Perhaps the sheriff telling the paper “I believe strongly in the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms” was all that was needed to overlook past sins? He followed that, unsurprisingly, with a public display of his big “but,” indicating he had no philosophical problems with bans on semi-automatics using normal capacity magazines, 10-day waiting periods, and other infringements. He deems those “sufficient,” and that, perhaps, is where he gets his pass.
“I don’t think we need any additional laws,” Brown told the local paper. “We need to enforce the laws we do have.”
In other words, enforce existing Intolerable Acts?
To be fair, Brown hasn’t eliminated all concealed carry permits, just most of them. He's given out 52 in a population of over 430,000.
“He does issue them for two certain situations,” a Santa Barbara Independent report explains. “One, your profession involves valuable goods and features a higher than normal risk of robbery; and two, credible threats exist against the safety of you or someone in your family.”
In other words, some well-heeled businessman’s merchandise is more valuable than your life and the lives of your loved ones. They get preferential “privileges,” even if your work or school requires you to be alone in places where you’re on your own at hours when most are asleep behind locked doors.
And if a “credible threat” exists, that must mean authorities have actionable evidence of criminal intent. It would be interesting to know how many permits have been issued that fit the latter category (including if and when threats are ever deemed “over”), and to see a breakdown of all permit holders, to include mean income, political and other connections, race/ethnicity and the like.
Who thinks this is just fine? Why, the "egalitarian progressives,” of course.
“Toni Wellen, of the Coalition Against Gun Violence, which is the region’s top watchdog, praised Brown’s stance on the issue, explaining, ‘He’s a wise and very good sheriff in that regard,’” the report concludes.
So what are Santa Barbara gun owners to do?
Challenger Sandra Brown (no relation) could be promising, but is playing things coy as far as public statements and real commitments go.
“The current Sheriff makes it sound like he thinks that not giving law-abiding citizens permits is making our community safer. I find his philosophy insulting,” she advised one activist by email, but not by public announcement. Still, she did not come right out and pledge to actually change things or volunteer specific ways she intends to support the Second Amendment. Indeed, the CRPA voter guide lists her as “FTAQ” (“failed to answer the questions”), and sources tell this column she claims not to have seen it, and not to have returned the NRA questionnaire, fearing it could be used against her. At this writing, it has not been determined if there was only one questionnaire -- the thought is, CRPA might just administer the NRA document, and this column will be updated if that can be determined. [UPDATE: I've been informed CRPA does not use NRA's questionnaire.]
She has a point with that fear. In California, holding such responses against a candidate can be a real possibility. Still, it hardly inspires confidence, and certainly does not warrant a recommendation to vote for Sandra Brown based on pro-gun expectations without further demonstrations of genuine commitment. Whether she ends up filling out the Q&A and further clarifies where she stands, or hides from it, remains to be seen.
That said, the question becomes: Is it in the interests of gun owners to elect Sandra, or to punish Bill? That might actually have more far-reaching strategic consequences, particularly since he was just elected Secretary of the California State Sheriffs’ Association. That gives Santa Barbara gun owners the opportunity to send a message and make their displeasure felt across the state.
There are some other things gun owners can do as well.
Gun owners can let CRPA know Brown deserves an “F,” not a “C” via their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Because even though it’s not a good grade, a “C” is a passing one. Santa Barbara gun owners who don’t know any better will vote accordingly, so what CRPA will end up doing, after seeing evidence of Brown’s betrayals of his earlier “A,” and after meeting with NRA members he’s shafted, is help Bill Brown get reelected. The rating has the effect of being a de facto endorsement with plausible deniability and without any of the risks.
Gun owners can put questions publicly to Sandra Brown and let her know this issue is not going away, and some political courage is expected from someone seeking their trust.
Gun owners can let Bill Brown know that his stunningly hypocritical betrayals have been noted, and they could even have some fun with the guy, if nothing else, via his Twitter account and Facebook page. For instance, they might want to ask him how he can, with a straight face, claim to be “in the company of heroes,” knowing full well he would deny these WWII veterans and Purple Heart recipients his consent to bear arms, and would deprive them of freedom under force of state arms if he caught them doing so without the permission he refuses to give. He would do that to all veterans. He would do that to all citizens.
Perhaps “What Can Brown Do to You?” can become a useful slogan.
And finally, gun owners can vote on June 3. Perhaps, if combined with a campaign to illustrate “pervasive discontent among the troops who fear and distrust their boss,” they can send Bill Brown packing, not that under the elite “Only Ones” exemption he enjoys, he needs to worry about having his “right” to carry rescinded.
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