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State lags in disarming thousands prohibited from owning guns

January 29, 2013 | 12:51 pm
Californiaguns

This post has been updated. See the note at the bottom for details.

California authorities have a backlog of 19,784 people who own firearms but are prohibited from doing so because of criminal records or mental illness and therefore must be disarmed. But there is not enough staffing to clear the backlog at the current rate of enforcement, officials warned Tuesday.

The backlog, which involves about 39,000 guns, was reported in testimony by Stephen Lindley, chief of the bureau of firearms for the state Department of Justice, at a hearing on gun violence held by the Assembly and Senate public safety committees.

Each year, the state investigates and seizes the guns of about 2,000 people on the Armed Prohibited Persons list. However, about 3,000 names are added to the list each year, Lindley told the 15 legislators.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and other legislators urged Lindley to submit a budget proposal for funding to provide enough officers to find and disarm all who have been declared ineligible to own a gun in one year.

"We ought to get those guns out of the hands of people who are prohibited," Steinberg said during the hearing at the Capitol. Lindley said the Department of Justice was considering a $25-million plan to eliminate the backlog in three years by hiring 50 more officers and support staff.

Steinberg said it could cost about that much in one year to bring in enough officers to do the job in 12 months, adding that it "would be a very wise and worthy investment."

California conducts background checks on gun purchasers and blocks sales to those with felonies and certain mental problems. But the state also has a database that identifies people who were registered to own guns but later became disqualified because they were convicted of crimes, are subjects of restraining orders or found to have mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves and others.

[Updated 3:14 p.m. Jan. 29: In response to the problem, Democratic Sens. Mark Leno of San Francisco and President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento introduced a bill later Tuesday that would allow the Department of Justice to dip into funds collected when gun buyers pay a fee for background checks. There is a $20 million surplus in the account.]

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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Each year, the state seizes the guns of about 2,000 people on the Armed Prohibited Persons list, lawmakers were told Tuesday. However, about 3,000 names are added to the list each year. Credit: Associated Press

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