LYNN LA •
From CalMatters criminal justice reporter Nigel Duara:
California’s first-in-the-nation program to take guns away from people prohibited by courts from owning them continues to tread water: A backlog of cases numbering between 23,000 and 24,000 people has stubbornly persisted, even as Attorney General Rob Bonta insisted on Monday that the program is making progress.
“That’s why we’re not taking our foot off the gas,” Bonta said at a press conference announcing the release of an annual report on the weapons seizure program. “While this report is a success story, there is still more work to do.”
The Armed and Prohibited Persons System did indeed take guns away from more people than were added to the database last year. But the work done by the Justice Department didn’t do much to cut into the backlog. The program, launched in 2006, is intended to take guns from people who have been convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor or placed under a restraining order, or who suffer from severe mental illness.
- On Jan. 1, 23,869 registered gun owners in California were prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. Last year at the same time, there were 24,509 armed and prohibited people. The year before that, the number was 23,598.
- At least the backlog didn’t grow: More people were removed from the prohibited list than added in 2022 — barely. In 2022, 9,277 people were added to the database, while 9,917 people were removed. Total net for the year: 640 fewer people.
- Law enforcement removed 54 “ghost” guns last year, a 575% increase since 2018, when they removed eight.
- Bonta: “This work is critical, this work is also dangerous. In a typical shift, our agents are out in the field. They’re knocking on doors. They’re recovering dangerous firearms from people who have no business having them and don’t necessarily want to voluntarily give them up.”
CalMatters’ 2021 three-part series Outgunned found that collaboration is scattershot between state and local criminal justice officials seeking to confiscate firearms, and judges have done little to ensure their orders requiring gun relinquishments are executed.
One major issue is the system itself. The Justice Department notes that it is outdated and needs major upgrades, including the ability to say which cases have gone more than six months without the department opening an investigation.
- The Justice Department, in its report: “Gathering this information would require that a Crime Analyst review each individual APPS entry, one-by-one and review the notes in each file. Lacking a more efficient way of gathering this information, DOJ will be unable to provide these statistics until upgrades are made to the APPS database.”
One way to cut into the backlog would be to make the criminal justice system more agile in responding to people who already own guns and then end up on the prohibited list. Bonta said probation departments, courts and local law enforcement could work together to ensure people’s guns are removed the moment they’re convicted of a crime that would add them to the list.
Bonta also called for a new system at the county level that would mandate the confiscation of firearms at the moment someone is served with a restraining order, another strategy to remove people from the list before they can be added to its backlog.
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