State Considers Taking Shot at Disarming Thousands Who Own Guns Illegally

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

As California lawmakers poured through myriad proposals this week for reducing the threat from guns, one didn’t involve changing the law at all. Just enforcing it.

Nearly 20,000 registered gun owners in possession of 39,000 handguns and 1,600 assault weapons have convictions for felonies, domestic violence or drugs, or mental health conditions that prevent them, by law, from being armed. But the state has not dedicated the necessary manpower and financial assets to rounding up the weaponry.

Stephen J. Lindley, chief of the bureau of firearms in the state Department of Justice (DOJ), told legislators on Tuesday that its database of people who shouldn’t possess weapons, but do, grows by about 2,000 every year. He told members of the Senate and Assembly Public Safety committees that his agency lacked the resources to go after them.

Lindley estimated the effort would need 50 extra investigators working for three years at $25 million a year to clear up the backlog. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg suggested that the time be compressed to six months and introduced legislation almost immediately with Senator Mark Leno to let the DOJ tap a $20 million fund made up of fees collected from gun buyers for background checks.

The system for tracking those in illegal possession of weapons has been on the books since 2001 but only operational since 2007. Law enforcement has used the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) to conduct 9,400 investigations and collect more than 10,000 guns. A sweep last September netted 553 weapons, including 141 assault weapons. In the first 11 months of 2012, DOJ agents seized 2,033 firearms, 117,000 rounds of ammunition and 11,072 illegal high-capacity magazines.

Many of the people in the database had weapons before they became involved with the legal system. Almost one-third of the people on the list have a criminal record, 30% have mental issues, 20% have a restraining order out against them and 18% are wanted by the authorities.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Guns Illegally Owned by 20,000 in State (by Wyatt Buchanan, San Francisco Chronicle)

California Unable to Disarm 19,700 Felons and Mentally Ill People (by Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times)

Calif. Dept. of Justice: 19,784 State Residents Own Guns Who Shouldn't (by Julie Small, KPCC)

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