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How Sean Penn got the gun permit
by Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
Wednesday Apr 30th, 2003 4:55 PM
So why was actor Sean Penn toting a loaded 9mm Glock handgun and unloaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson in the trunk of a car that wound up being stolen?
Fear that an ex-employee of Penn's was stalking him, according to confidential documents he submitted to the Ross Police Department as part of his application for a concealed-weapons permit back in 2001.

The documents, released to us under a state Public Records Act request, also show that Penn underwent an extensive background check and firearms training before being issued the permit early last year.

The records show that the actor had routinely received threats over the years as a result of his "high-profile public lifestyle."

He even had a private security firm review all the crank calls and letters and give him "threat assessments."

Most were nothing, but one former employee was rated as being "in the worst category of pursuers," according to a report submitted by Penn's security outfit to Ross police.

The man -- who according to the threat assessors was trained in martial arts and had prior arrests for possessing a concealed weapon -- repeatedly tried contacting Penn after he was fired.

Penn admitted to using marijuana 20 years ago and had a couple of arrests for assault and driving recklessly, factors that could have disqualified him for a permit for carrying a concealed weapon. In this case, however, Penn got FBI and state Department of Justice clearance and completed firearms training early last year.

Then, earlier this month, someone stole Penn's car with the guns inside while Penn was at a Berkeley restaurant. The car was recovered -- but the guns are still out there.

By the way, not everyone has to jump through the hoops the way Penn did in Marin to carry concealed heat. It all depends on where you live.

For example, only 44 permits were issued in Marin in 2000, the most recent year for which records are available, according to the state attorney general's office. In San Francisco, there were just eight -- the fewest in the state.

San Francisco's liberal Sheriff Michael Hennessey simply refuses to grant permits. And acting Police Chief Alex Fagan says, "I just don't give them unless there is an articulable need."

If you really want a gun, head on down to wide-open Kern County, where officials issued an eye-popping 3,566 concealed-weapons permits in 2000.

Shasta County at the north end of the state wasn't far behind, with 2,972. Authorities there tell us they pretty much issue a permit to any "law-abiding citizen" who's been in the county for a year, passes a basic background check and takes a gun safety course.

But Alameda County Sheriff Charlie Plummer, whose office currently has 137 concealed-weapons permits on file -- down from 150 in 2000 -- says simply being "a law-abiding citizen" doesn't cut it in his county.

"I have some good friends who are law-abiding, but they also have hair- trigger tempers," Plummer said.

As a result, Plummer said he has some rules for issuing permits -- like showing a "real need."

Most notable of those with a "real need" is state senator and gun control advocate Don Perata, who has had one for years because of reported threats against him.

Eight judges, several attorneys, businessmen in high-crime areas and a diamond dealer also made the grade.

One who didn't was Mayor Jerry Brown's longtime aide, Jacques Barzaghi.

Plummer called that permit "political," forcing Barzaghi to get one from the Oakland Police Department instead.

One other thing. Plummer said he requires every applicant to see "a psychiatrist of my choosing -- and they pay for it."

MAKING THE CASE: Despite what some people may think, San Francisco doesn't need a new district attorney -- it needs a new office for the district attorney.

At least that's what D.A. Terence Hallinan said Monday night as he faced off against Bill Fazio and Kamala Harris in the first debate of what promises to be yet another knock-down, drag-out election for the job as the city's top lawman.

To some, it might have seemed like a strange opening statement for lightning-rod Hallinan to make.

But then, those who know Hallinan never cease to be amazed at his ability to float above his critics and eventually land on his feet.

His appearance before the largely yuppie, gay crowd at the "Plan C Club" was a case in point.

To hear his opening remarks, you'd have never known that Hallinan had just had half the police brass indicted -- only to have a judge toss out the charges and take a slap at his lack of ethics for pursuing the case.

Nor would you have known about his beefs with Mayor Willie Brown over his failure to prosecute homeless people and drunks for quality-of-life crimes.

You wouldn't have even heard about his victory in the Diane Whipple dog- mauling case.

Instead, Hallinan came out of the gate with what he thought was the biggest problem facing the D.A.'s office -- the office itself, as in the walls and wiring.

"When I first came in eight years ago, the attorneys didn't even have computers," Hallinan said.

"I said I'd get them. They said we don't have the wiring. I said we'll rewire the place. They said you can't because of the asbestos in the walls."

And it didn't stop there.

"When the Hall (of Justice) first opened," Hallinan recalled, "it had a cafeteria and a parking lot -- now it has neither."

Hallinan completed his architectural appraisal by promising that if re- elected, one of his top priorities would be, of all things, to build a new state-of-the-art Hall of Justice.

Presumably, one with better dining and parking.


Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. They can also be heard on KGO Radio on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Phil Matier can be seen regularly on KRON-TV. Got a tip? Call them at (415) 777-8815 or e-mail matierandross [at]


Number of permits issued by police and sheriff agencies among selected
counties in 2000
Kern 3,566
Shasta 2,972
Fresno 2,178
San Bernardino 2,084
Los Angeles 874
San Joaquin 491
Contra Costa 208
San Mateo 204
Alameda 150
Santa Clara 132
Sonoma 131
Solano 77
Marin 44
San Francisco 8
Source: California Attorney General's Office
Chronicle Graphic

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