More people in Kern County can carry guns on them, than any other county in the state. The latest numbers from the Department of Justice show there are thousands of people here with concealed carry permits, or CCW's. And, like gun sales, since recent violence and the battle over gun control, requests for the permit have shot up fast.
In a mall, at a restaurant, or on the road, you'll likely never know if the person next to you is carrying a concealed gun. But, in Kern County, chances are greater here than in any other part of the state, that they are.
"I'm pretty proud of the fact that we are probably number one when it comes to CCW's," said Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
Sheriff Youngblood's department and the Bakersfield Police Department have approved hundreds of concealed carry applications locally over the last couple of years. The permit allows someone to carry a handgun concealed on their person, in a car, and anywhere in the state where guns aren't prohibited. The latest Department of Justice numbers show in 2011, of the more than 850,000 people in Kern County, nearly 3,800 had a CCW. Compare that to a much stricter Los Angeles County. With a population of more than 9,800,000, 220 people were permitted to carry concealed weapons.
And, Sheriff Youngblood estimates the number of permits here in Kern County currently has grown to 5,200.
"I'm a strong believer in it. I think people have the right to protect themselves and that's why I issue so many permits," explained Sheriff Youngblood.
And, the reason so many want permits is for protection, not just at home, but on the street. Since AB 109, crimes, from robberies to rapes, have steadily increased in the city and county.
"We do have a different clientèle on the street today. We are fooling ourselves if we don't understand that the AB 109 inmates that are released and walking our streets are different today than they were two years ago," said Sheriff Youngblood.
The application process can take a couple of months. A sergeant reviews each application and approves or denies it. A denial can be appealed. Then, it's reviewed by a commander. If it's denied again, it can be appealed to the sheriff or police chief, who has the final say, making sure the applicant fully disclosed any past run-ins with the law and pays close attention to "good cause." That's the explanation of why the applicant wants to carry a concealed weapon.
"If I get an application where my next door neighbor is threatening me and I want to be able to have a gun to protect myself, there's a feud going there. There's a red flag that goes up and my answer is usually no. I'm not going to help you kill your neighbor," explained Sheriff Youngblood.
Someone denied must wait a year to re-apply. And, the number of CCW applications has spiked. Typically, around 100 people apply per month in Kern County. More than 250 turned in paperwork here in December.
Some of those applicants were at Triple Threat Solutions taking a mandatory eight-hour CCW training course, in the classroom and on the range. The course is taught by former law enforcement officers, like former Bakersfield police officer, Roosevelt Scott.
"Probably 50 percent of it is mindset to prepare yourself for it just in case," said Scott. "And, another 10 percent is just the rules."
Learning those rules is court clerk Storm Waters, whose CCW application was just approved.
"That's my security," said Waters. "That's how I'm going to be able to fight back because I have the upper arm strength of a limp noodle."
And, in the classroom Alexsis Sanchez, a mother of two young boys, is taking the first step to becoming permitted to protect herself.
"Just with everything going on, I feel that there is more of a need to know exactly what guns do, what makes them go 'pow.' You know, a safe way to handle them," said Sanchez.
But, no matter how safe you are with a gun, fall out of line with the law and your CCW will be permanently revoked. Sheriff Youngblood says most lose theirs to DUI, but even a minor shoplift will get a permit pulled.
"This is a system where you lose poor judgment, and I'm sorry, there is a price to pay. And, part of your punishment will be, you don't have a CCW permit anymore. I'm not fooling myself. There's probably the guy out there that has a CCW in today's world that's going to make me look bad and do something really stupid. I know he's there, but I hope not," said Sheriff Youngblood.
CCW permits have to be renewed every two years. And, there is no limit to the number per county that can be issued. While Sheriff Youngblood expects to issue more, he thinks the rush will die down once the issue of gun control cools off.