California lawmakers allocated $24 million in 2013 for the state Department of Justice (DOJ) to confiscate guns illegally possessed by 19,784 felons, mentally ill persons, narcotics users and domestic violence perps by June 2016.
They didn’t come close.
Last week, the department said it had spent 40% of the money but has only seized weapons from 17% of the people and might reach half by the deadline. Officials asked for understanding, more money and another three years at a state Senate budget subcommittee hearing last week.
The senators suggested they try harder, prioritize who they go after better and quickly de-list any folks mistakenly in the database. “There is concern in the Legislature that we need to do better,” subcommittee Chair Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said.
At the time the law was passed, almost one-third of the people in the database had a criminal record, 30% had mental issues, 20% had a restraining order out against them and 18% were wanted by the authorities.
California is the only state that combines information on all the categories covered by the law and cross-references it with firearm purchase records in a single database. So far, the usefulness of that data has been limited.
Part of the problem has been not enough bodies for enforcement. At a hearing before a state Senate panel, lawmakers were told that 38 of the 48 special agents hired and trained for the temporary program quickly bolted for other, more permanent, jobs in the department. But lawmakers can’t say they weren’t warned that personnel would be a problem.
In January 2013, the DOJ’s chief at the Bureau of Firearms, Stephen J. Lindley, told them the department would need 50 extra investigators and $25 million a year for three years to eliminate the backlog. He didn’t get it.
Lindley was back in front of them last week and said that he would need at least two or three extra years to kill the backlog. Although thousands of names drop off the list annually because of status changes (including death), weapon sales are way up the last half dozen years and additions to the list have increased. Handgun sales increased from 200,000 in 2008 to 500,000 last year.
Without the $24 million already allocated, the list would contain 28,000 names, not 16,396, Lindley said.