Capitol Alert

Audit faults Department of Justice for gun case backlog

Firearms evidence is on display in 2013 during a news conference in Portland, Ore.
Firearms evidence is on display in 2013 during a news conference in Portland, Ore. Associated Press file

Nearly two years after finding that the state Department of Justice and courts failed to identify thousands of mentally ill gun owners who are prohibited from having firearms, the state auditor said Thursday that the department has failed to resolve its backlog of such cases.

In a follow-up report, state Auditor Elaine Howle wrote that the department’s “delays in fully implementing certain recommendations result in continued risk to public safety.”

Lawmakers in 2013 approved legislation appropriating $24 million to the Department of Justice to address a backlog of cases of prohibited people having guns. But the state auditor said the department had failed to fully implement seven of eight recommendations made in 2013 to improve department procedures.

For example, the department has not taken sufficient steps to ensure courts and mental health facilities are reporting mentally ill people for review, the audit said, and it continues to redirect staffers to work on other priorities.

As of April, the audit said, the department had a review backlog of more than 257,000 people who are potentially prohibited from having guns.

“Based on its current rate of reviewing its historical queue, we estimate that Justice may not meet its goal of clearing the backlog by December 2016,” the audit said. “Instead, based on its current pace, we estimate that Justice may not be able to clear the backlog until sometime in 2022. The longer it takes Justice to review the records in its backlogs, the longer armed prohibited persons keep their firearms, which increases the risk to public safety.”

The Department of Justice said in a written response to the audit that “the unforeseen loss of analytical staff, and the continued high level of firearms sales” have forced the department to redirect staffers to complete background checks on firearms purchases in California. The department, headed by Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, said it is committed to eliminating the backlog of cases by 2016.

The backlog was the focus of a legislative hearing in April.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders