Soapbox

Another View: Harris is falling short on gun backlog

Department of Justice agents use the Armed Prohibited Persons System database to seize illegal guns from convicted felons, the mentally unstable, individuals with active restraining orders and others.
Department of Justice agents use the Armed Prohibited Persons System database to seize illegal guns from convicted felons, the mentally unstable, individuals with active restraining orders and others. California Department of Justice

I was disappointed but frankly not surprised that a recent Sacramento Bee editorial (“Progress made in effort to disarm illegal gun owners,” April 8) praised Attorney General Kamala Harris, even though she has wasted taxpayer dollars and failed to uphold her promise to clear a backlog of nearly 20,000 felons, persons with mental illnesses and individuals with restraining orders who are illegally in possession of firearms.

Here are the facts.

In 2013, following the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Legislature authorized an audit of the attorney general’s Armed Prohibited Persons System. This database cross-references firearms owners in California against domestic violence restraining orders and mental health and criminal history records to identify persons who are prohibited from lawfully owning a firearm.

The audit found a backlog of 20,000 such persons. The Legislature authorized $24 million so the attorney general could hire 36 agents to clear the backlog within three years.

A Department of Justice aide testified in January 2013 that clearing the backlog “was a priority for Attorney General Harris” and that the department – which Harris runs – could “investigate and arrest its way out of the backlog in a three-year period with roughly $8 million per year.” Upon further questioning, the aide agreed that with $25 million it was possible to eliminate the backlog in one year.

Last month, the Justice Department sent a status report to the Legislature – and it’s astonishing. Two years into the three-year program, the department has hired only half of the agents promised and cleared only 3,700 of the 20,000-person backlog. Nearly 40 percent of the $24 million is gone, but the report does not provide any accounting of how this money was spent.

That’s why Senate Republicans have asked for an oversight hearing as soon as possible. The public deserves to know if the attorney general spent money that was to be used to clear the backlog on some other purpose. We also need specific answers for how she will eliminate the backlog in the remaining year.

This oversight hearing is critical for public safety, given the potential consequences of firearms illegally remaining in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Harris isn’t making enough progress, and she needs to disclose where the money went.

Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, is Republican leader of the California Senate.

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