State Slow to Separate Mentally Ill from Prohibited Guns

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

California’s Department of Justice has a backlog problem and might have trouble meeting its December 2016 deadline for confiscating weapons from people banned from gun ownership because of mental health issues.

The California State Auditor thinks 2022 might be a more realistic time frame considering the slow pace, and thinks things would have gone more smoothly if department officials had executed more than one of the eight recommendations she made in 2013.

An audit (pdf) released last week said the department’s behavior is still a “risk to public safety.”

Eighteen months ago, Auditor Elaine Howle reported that Justice Department employees failed to identify some prohibited individuals based on available information and wrongly fingered some folks they shouldn’t have. To complicate matters, the auditor found that some courts and mental health facilities weren’t reporting relevant cases for inclusion in key data repositories.  

None of that has changed. The department is trying to power through two queues of cases, one historical and one daily, but isn’t getting anywhere fast. There are 257,000 people in the historical backlog, dating back to 2006, and an average of 3,600 in the daily backlog. The daily queue is supposed to hold no more than 600 names.

California lawmakers allocated $24 million in 2013 for the department to confiscate guns illegally possessed by 19,784 felons, mentally ill persons, narcotics users and domestic violence perps by June 2016. There were assurances from the department at the time that the backlogs could be knocked down within a year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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. 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. 

DOJ’s chief at the Bureau of Firearms, Stephen J. Lindley, told the auditor pretty much the same thing he told lawmakers in 2013; the department does not have enough money and personnel to carry out its myriad tracking responsibilities. Some of the requirements are statutory and take priority over the gun checks.   

He also told the auditor that a jump in firearm sales, partially in response to court decisions, and limited support from local law enforcement have further hampered the department’s efforts.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

 California Auditor’s Report Details Chronic Banned Gun Owners Backlog (by Shoshana Walter, The Center for Investigative Reporting)

Audit Faults Department of Justice for Gun Case Backlog (by David Siders, Sacramento Bee)

California Lags in Checking Whether Dangerous People Own Guns (by Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times)

State Blows Deadline for Taking Guns from Felons and Mentally Ill (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Delays in Fully Implementing Recommendations (California State Auditor) (pdf)

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