Gun permits based on political views. It’s on the horizon for many Americans.
That’s because left-wingers in California, a trend-setting state, have cooked up a new way to stop Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, moderates, and anyone else who refuses to toe the politically correct line from defending themselves from the crime wave that their policies have unleashed on America.
The day after the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right of Americans to carry guns in public for self-defense, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, began pressing officials across the state to deny public-carry gun licenses to people deemed to harbor feelings of “hatred and racism.”
Bonta, for what it’s worth, is in trouble because his office leaked the names and addresses of every single concealed carry permit holder in California. Some now fear for their lives thanks to his incompetence.
The high court ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, came down June 23. It held that part of New York state’s concealed carry gun permitting system was unconstitutional because it only authorized public-carry licenses “when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense.” The landmark 6-3 decision (pdf), written by Justice Clarence Thomas, recognized a constitutional right to carry guns in public for self-defense for the first time in the nation’s history.
Of course, early gun control laws in America were in some cases motivated by racism. The “Black Codes” adopted in southern states prevented blacks from keeping and bearing arms.
As High Country News reported last year, in California a 1923 law blocked non-citizens from having concealable firearms. Because of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act, many Chinese people in the state could not own guns because they could not become citizens. A San Francisco Chronicle article from back then celebrated the disarming of Chinese and Latino residents.
“Where the officials have the discretion in terms of gun licensing, there’s a very clear historic pattern of discrimination,” the article quoted Robert Cottrol, a history professor at George Washington University, saying.
After the Supreme Court spoke, Bonta promptly pulled a bait-and-switch, following Bruen by dropping the state’s “good cause” requirement but beefing up California’s “good moral character” requirement. In his June 24 “legal alert” (pdf) to gun permit issuers, he said that to assess whether an applicant had “good moral character” authorities could rely on the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department policy, which states:
“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.” [italics added]
Bonta also reminded the permit issuers that they “may search publicly available information, including social media accounts, in assessing the applicant’s character.”
Although some of the “good moral character” criteria seem straightforward, some seem unfair.
The requirement for “fiscal stability” seems likely to deprive poor people living in dangerous neighborhoods and those with bad credit ratings from getting a carry permit, leaving them at the mercy of violent illegal-gun-toting criminals.
But the phrase “absence of hatred and racism” really, really, really raises red flags.
What exactly are “hatred and racism” in the eyes of Left Coast public safety bureaucrats?
The answer seems to be: anything a woke government official says it is.
Racism, of course, is an infinitely malleable concept in the hands of people who despise America and all it stands for.
To leftists, opposition to critical race theory, Islamism, affirmative action, open borders, and tax cuts are some of the more obvious current examples of racism. Respecting the American flag, the Constitution, the police and law and order, capitalism, tradition, and Israel are also seen as evidence of racism. And liking Donald Trump and Republicans is, at the moment, the worst kind of racism there is, according to leftists.
This is not, by the way, an exhaustive agglomeration of hallucinated racism and with the continuing popularity of inventive woke gurus like Ibram X. Kendi the list grows longer every day.
And what about hatred?
By hatred, leftists are really referring to ideas they regard as hateful because they run counter to the radical worldview. In other words, wrongthink.
“Hatred,” though, is a difficult word to make money off of. Like the fundraising-obsessed charlatans at the Southern Poverty Law Center, radicals prefer the shorter, more marketable word “hate.”
They don’t care that actual, plain old dictionary definition hate, and the expression of it, “hate speech,” an admittedly nebulous concept, is entirely lawful.
Leftists will adamantly deny it until they’re Democrat-blue in the face, but hate speech is protected by the Constitution, as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reminds us.
Americans are allowed to express anger and hostility. Nothing in the Bill of Rights requires everyone to think happy thoughts and say nice things.
“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,” according to a February FIRE report.
The only categories of speech that aren’t protected by the First Amendment are instances 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.
Worryingly, eradicating “hate” –which, like racism nowadays, is in the eye of the beholder— is an official priority for Bonta.
Hate is everywhere in California, he claimed June 28.
“The pandemic gave way to an epidemic of hate. We saw the bigoted words of our former president turn a trickle of hate into a flood that remains with us,” Bonta said.
In May of last year he created a new “Racial Justice Bureau” within the California Department of Justice. His press release at the time said the new office will “help tackle some of California’s most pressing racial and social justice issues head on.”
The bureau is tasked with doing a whole bunch of things that have nothing to do with law enforcement.
Among other things, it will monitor “the insidious effects of white supremacy and hate organizations on our society” and assist a task force studying and developing “reparation proposals for African Americans.”
California already gives grants to left-wing community organizations to fight “hate,” which leads to predictable results.
On March 28, the state announced grants to several groups including Chinese for Affirmative Action, Chinese Progressive Association, and UCLA’s Labor Center. On June 20 it awarded a little over $2.6 million to one of America’s most prominent real-life hate groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a subversive, anti-Semitic organization that leftists reflexively defend because they abhor Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian Western Civilization.
Returning to the good moral character provision, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh wrote in a Reason column that he was disturbed at Bonta’s suggestion “that people who hold certain ideological viewpoints should be disqualified.”
Bonta giving issuing authorities a green light to sift through applicants’ social media accounts in search of evidence of their character “strikes me as clearly unconstitutional under the First Amendment, even apart from the Second Amendment.”
This writer recently interviewed C.D. “Chuck” Michel of the law firm Michel and Associates about Bonta’s mischief-making.
Michel is president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association and the Second Amendment Law Center. Michel also wrote California Gun Laws: A Guide to State and Federal Firearm Regulations, a 532-page vade mecum that 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 said.
“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.”
“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” on social media, is dangerous, the lawyer said.
“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,” he 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,” he said. It is part of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) 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 made it clear that he is “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].”
“Anybody can define those terms in a way that condemns a broad swath of society that in my view is neither hateful [nor] racist.”
Interestingly, a handful of left-wingers say that the good moral character provision in other laws is itself racist. In a 2017 piece at Sociology In Focus, Siena College sociology professor Beverly Yuen Thompson applied a disparate-impact-like analysis, writing that, “A modern example of structural racism can be found in the ‘good moral character’ clause that bars many people of color from the legal marijuana industry.”
“In legal marijuana states, their laws often include a ‘good moral character’ clause, requiring prospective owners and employees, to submit to a criminal background check. Marijuana legalization laws often ban workers with drug convictions from working in the industry, especially medical marijuana states.” In states with the clause, “these prior convictions disproportionately prevent people of color from joining the newly legal marijuana economy.”
This perspective is an outlier among leftists, and their ideas about so-called structural racism in America are absurd, but hey, it’s something. Maybe an ACLU attorney somewhere agrees and this will in some small way help the cause of California gun-permit applicants trying to avail themselves of their Second Amendment rights.
The real issue here is whether gun permit-issuing authorities in California can be trusted to apply the good moral character provision in a politically-neutral, ideologically-neutral way in light of Bonta’s commitment to use fuzzy, social-justice criteria in the gun-licensing process.
Don’t bet your life on it.