California Corrections Officers Gain Right To Carry Concealed Weapons Without Permits

Custodial deputies for Stanislaus County, California are represented by the Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. The Association filed a state court lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that custodial deputies could lawfully carry concealed firearms while off duty without the necessity of obtaining a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and that the County’s position to the contrary violated the law.

In an opinion construing California’s complicated gun statutes, the California Court of Appeals sided with the Association. The Court focused on a statute setting forth what is generally known as the peace officer exemption to the law against carrying concealed firearms without a permit. The statute declares that the main statute requiring permits “does not apply to, or affect, any peace officer, whether active or honorably retired, or any other duly-appointed peace officer.”

The Court held that a separate statute “expressly provides that custodial deputies of the type considered in the present appeal are peace officers, and it goes on to describe the scope and limitations of the deputies’ authority as peace officers.

“The law specifies dozens of government employees as peace officers, sometimes simply by job title, but more often by reference both to a position and its primary duties. In general, the law names some classifications of employees as peace officers whose powers are either specified or limited, provides that other employees are not peace officers but may exercise some peace officer functions under certain circumstances, denies peace officer status to some classifications, and denies or restricts the right of some peace officers to carry firearms. The plain import of this statutory system is that the Legislature intended to grant peace officer status, and the power and authority conferred with that status in particular instances, subject to carefully prescribed limitations and conditions.

“The core issue before us is whether the peace officer exemption, which by its terms applies to custodial deputies, ceases to apply to such deputies when they are off duty.

“Consistent with our analysis is the fact that the peace officer exemption exempts any peace officer whether active or honorably retired. Obviously, persons who are honorably retired peace officers are not engaged in the scope of a present, on-duty assignment as a peace officer; nevertheless, the exemption applies to them as individuals. It would seem that, at least for purposes of this subdivision of the exemption, the Legislature was interested in benefitting the persons who serve as peace officers, or who are honorably retired from such service, without imposing further conditions (i.e., situational variables) on the exemption such as on duty, off duty or scope of authority. There is no indication in the wording of the statute – which plainly confers the exemption on broad categories of listed peace officers and retired officers – that the exemption was meant to turn on and off like a light switch depending on the individual’s particular activities, location or circumstances in a given moment.

“The pattern used by the Legislature in this statutory scheme is that when it wants to limit the application of the peace officer exemption with respect to a particular classification of peace officer, it does so explicitly. That was not done with the peace officer exemption, and we find no warrant to find such a limitation by implication.”

Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association v. County of Stanislaus, 2016 WL 4249730 (Cal. App. 2016).