Capitol Alert

Kamala Harris seeks funding increase to pursue illegal gun owners

Firearms seized from individuals in the Armed Prohibited Persons System database.
Firearms seized from individuals in the Armed Prohibited Persons System database. Courtesy of the California Dept. of Justice

With a large backlog remaining more than two years after lawmakers set aside $24 million to speed the removal of firearms from thousands of individuals prohibited from owning them, Attorney General Kamala Harris has requested permanent support for the program.

In a letter sent to the Legislature on Jan. 21, Harris touted the Department of Justice’s success in reducing the size of the Armed Prohibited Persons System, which tracks people who are banned from possessing guns because of their criminal history, mental health problems or restraining orders. As of Dec. 31, 2015, there were 12,691 subjects in the database whose cases have not been investigated, down from 20,721 on July 1, 2013, at the beginning of three years of temporary funding to address the backlog.

“Due to subsequent changes in law that will substantially increase the number of prohibited persons and the real and present danger these individuals pose to public safety, I strongly urge you to make permanent the increased APPS funding you approved three years ago,” she wrote, pointing to California’s new gun restraining order law, which she estimated would add as many as 3,000 more people to the database each year.

12,691Individuals in the database of prohibited gun owners whose cases have yet to be investigated

The authors of the original funding bill, which expires in May, were split on Harris’ request. Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who called for a hearing last year to investigate the department’s slow progress on reducing the backlog, said there was no way he would approve more funding.

He noted that much of the original money had gone to training new agents who subsequently transferred to other bureaus for promotions. As of Dec. 31, only 54 of 75 agent positions for the program were filled.

“If this was so dangerous, how did you allow all the money to fall through your fingers?” he said. “I’m shocked she would send out a victory lap when she should be hanging her head in shame.”

But Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said he was satisfied with what the department has accomplished so far. Through 18,608 investigations over the past thirty months, it has removed 9,771 firearms and more than 940,000 rounds of ammunition from those who possessed them illegally.

“That is certainly a return on investment,” he said. “We should not turn our backs on that progress.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff