CCW Weekend: What Constitutes “Good Cause” In May-Issue States
By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
May-issue states are known for making it difficult, if not impossible, for people to get a license to carry a gun, denying constitutional rights of their citizens and preventing millions of people from the means of defending themselves. Many of these states are also hotbeds of criminal activity, meaning the authorities only want police to deal with a problem that police clearly can’t entirely solve.
To get a permit in restrictive states, a person usually has to show good cause to be issued a permit. Local law enforcement, state-level law enforcement, whomever, reviews and decides whether it’s compelling enough.
What, then, constitutes “good cause”? Bear in mind that this isn’t legal advice, but rather a discussion of publicly available information on the topic. Usually, a person has to demonstrate that they face a real threat to life or property due to exigent circumstances or what they do for work, such as proprietors of jewelry stores. Mere self-defense may not be enough.
In practice, however, what qualifies as good cause depends almost entirely on the issuing authority and what they consider good cause.
For instance, California requires applicants “show cause” and be of “good moral character.” The issuing authority in that state is the county sheriff and/or municipal police. What’s well-known is that every sheriff or police department interprets it differently. For instance, a 2015 Reveal News article reported that since 2008, only one permit was issued by the San Francisco County sheriff. Since 2010, the San Francisco PD has issued three, of which only two were active as of 2014.
By contrast, there were 7,647 active permits in Fresno County. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones (elected in 2010) is widely reported to accept “for protection” as good enough cause. (There were 5,769 active permits in that county as of Dec 31, 2014.) San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, when asked by Reveal News, couldn’t think of anything that constituted good cause.
Hawaii is may-issue at law, and applicants are required to show a compelling reason like an active and serious threat to their life. Apparently, no reason is good enough; according to West Hawaii Today, no permits have been issued in Honolulu since 2006.
New Jersey likewise requires a justifiable need for a permit. In fairness, Governor Chris Christie has been pushing for changing that state’s “may-issue” permit system to a “shall-issue” system, but has been met with resistance. However, what passes for “justifiable” in New Jersey is anything but consistent. For instance, Carol Bowne of Berlin, NJ, had been waiting on her application for more than 60 days when she was stabbed to death in 2015 by an ex-boyfriend. She had obtained a restraining order and applied for the permit to guard against him. That same year, Lt. Col. Terry Russell made the news for being denied a permit. Russell works at the Picatinny Armory and applied for a concealed carry permit as military personnel and especially personnel that work at highly sensitive areas (like the Picatinny Armory) are at higher risk of terrorist attacks.
Apparently some people do meet the standard, but it’s difficult to tell just what it is they did to get it. According to a 2015 report on Ammoland, the state of New Jersey issued 496 permits in 2014.
The origin of the “may-issue” system is what are called “Sullivan laws,” named for New York’s Sullivan Act of 1911, which allowed carry with a permit but required good cause to get it. Usually, a specific and real threat has to exist or have been made, or it has to be related to a person’s employment. Living in a high-risk area is not enough. New York, though, has several classes of permit and permits also come with certain restrictions. A person might, for instance, only be granted a hunting and target shooting license, or only be granted a carry-for-work permit.
Oddly, New York City permits are different than New York state permits, and neither recognizes the other. New York City is notorious for only granting permits to the well-heeled.
Maryland, one of the tightest gun-control states that isn’t California, requires specific, actual threats to be disclosed when applying, according to this post on The Truth About Guns. They also require documentation and witnesses to specific threats. According to various message boards and forums, getting the permit is a little easier for business owners. Even when granting the permit to citizens that have been victims of crime, the state has been known to deny renewals under the basis that the danger has passed, so gaining a permit in Maryland is not an easy proposition.
Ultimately, what people in may-issue states are up against are not only requirements that can be nearly impossible to satisfy, but also arbitrary and ultimately inconsistent administration. Though these states can state what “good cause” means on applications – ie a pressing threat to life, limb or property – but good enough cause to get the permit is not something that’s defined by law in many of these jurisdictions.
Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.