California AG Tells Gun-Permitting Officials to Deny Applicants Based on Politics

This is part of the “blue resistance” to Supreme Court ruling, gun law expert says

California AG Tells Gun-Permitting Officials to Deny Applicants Based on Politics
California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks at a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 17, 2021. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)
Matthew Vadum

After the Supreme Court’s landmark Second Amendment ruling in June, California’s attorney general encouraged law enforcement officials in the state to deny firearm carry permits to individuals with a history of “hatred and racism”—whether expressed in social media posts or elsewhere.

The problem is that in these politically polarized times, defining hatred and racism is problematic, leading to definitions that disfavor the beliefs of conservatives and others who don’t toe the "woke" or politically correct line, critics say. Allowing these concepts to be used in the gun-permitting process is a recipe for abuse and could lead to violations of gun-permit applicants’ Second and First Amendment rights, they say.

On June 23, the Supreme Court ruled in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, that New York state’s tough concealed carry gun permitting system was unconstitutional because it only granted public-carry licenses “when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense.”

The day after the Bruen ruling, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, sent a “legal alert” (pdf) to law enforcement officials, advising them that the state was dropping the requirement for gun license applicants to provide a “good cause” because the requirement is now “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

But “the requirement that a public-carry license applicant provide proof of ‘good moral character’ remains constitutional” and should continue to be enforced.

A “good moral character” investigation “requires an independent determination,” Bonta wrote.

He pointed to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department policy:

“Legal judgments of good moral character can include consideration of honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, reliability, respect for the law, integrity, candor, discretion, observance of fiduciary duty, respect for the rights of others, absence of hatred and racism, fiscal stability, profession-specific criteria such as pledging to honor the Constitution and uphold the law, and the absence of criminal conviction.”

The paragraph appears as part of Policy 218 of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department Standards Manual (pdf). The sheriff’s department didn't respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment on the policy.

Bonta also wrote that authorities “may search publicly available information, including social media accounts, in assessing the applicant’s character.”

Long Beach attorney C.D. “Chuck” Michel of law firm Michel and Associates is president of the Fullerton-based California Rifle and Pistol Association and the Henderson, Nev.-based Second Amendment Law Center. Michel is also the author of “California Guns Laws: A Guide to State and Federal Firearm Regulations,” which is in its ninth edition.

“The problem with the good moral character policy that the attorney general seems to be encouraging is that it’s completely subjective and would allow a city to evaluate an applicant based on their politics, not on whether they’re a threat or not or whether they’re actually some kind of a bad character,” Michel told The Epoch Times.

“So we’re deeply concerned that that kind of subjective, politicized criteria creeps into this process. It’s something that the Supreme Court warned against, and it’s something that will definitely bring legal action if cities or counties try and adopt something like that."

Michel also said that “trying to evaluate somebody’s good moral character by the comments that they make, or the articles—maybe they don’t even say anything—they may just curate, pass along, share an article” on social media is fraught with peril.

As an example, he said he follows Vice President Kamala Harris on social media to “see what she’s doing, not because I agree with her politics.” Many people do this in an effort to expose themselves “to a lot of different viewpoints, if you’re trying to actually get to the truth about things.”

“And you’re going to be judged for that ... by someone who’s politically inclined, perhaps, to try and find a way not to issue permits," Michel said. "So they’re looking for things that they can use as an excuse to not issue a permit—that’s what the subtext of Bonta’s alert really is.

“This is what we’re calling the blue resistance. It’s part of [California Gov.] Gavin Newsom’s strategy, the governor of New York’s strategy, to minimize the real effect of the Supreme Court ruling and try and get around it by setting up all these other types of roadblocks. Basically, red tape the right to death.”

Michel stressed that he's “100 percent against hate speech and racism, but anything can be called hate speech, and anything can be labeled racism these days, so I'm very nervous about a policy that does some kind of a blanket [approach].”

These days, it isn't clear what “hate” and “racism” mean, he said.

“They're in the eye of the beholder, so to speak, and so anybody can define those terms in a way that condemns a broad swath of society that in my view is neither hateful [nor] racist.”

To many people nowadays, hate speech is “any speech that doesn't tolerate everything, or indicates any intolerance, toward everything they want to promote.”

Stamping out “hate” is a policy priority for Bonta, who's facing a backlash after his office recently leaked sensitive personal information, including the names and addresses of every concealed carry permit holder in the state. In May 2021, he created the Racial Justice Bureau within the California Department of Justice. His statement from that time states that the new bureau will “help tackle some of California’s most pressing racial and social justice issues head on.”
Hate speech, which can be hard to define in a legal sense, is protected by the U.S. Constitution, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

“Speech by adults as free citizens does not lose First Amendment protection because it is considered hateful. This is because hate speech in and of itself is protected speech, particularly when spoken by adults on their own time,” a February FIRE report reads.

The only categories of speech that aren't protected by the First Amendment are cases of “incitement to imminent lawless action,” “speech that threatens serious bodily harm,” and “speech that causes an immediate breach of the peace,” the so-called fighting words exception.

Eugene Volokh, the Gary T. Schwartz Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA, expressed alarm in a column at Reason that Bonta suggested “that people who hold certain ideological viewpoints should be disqualified.”

Bonta urging authorities to comb through applicants’ social media accounts to assess their character “strikes me as clearly unconstitutional under the First Amendment, even apart from the Second Amendment.”

The Epoch Times reached out to Bonta’s office for comment, but didn't receive a reply by press time.