Almost two years after lawmakers set aside $24 million to seize guns from thousands of people banned from having them, a new California Department of Justice report shows that the backlog of prohibited gun owners shrunk by less than one-fifth from a year earlier.
There were almost 17,500 people in the Armed and Prohibited Persons System as of Dec. 31, 2014. That was down by about 18 percent from the more than 21,000 in the database as of January 2014, according to the department’s March 1 report to the Legislature.
The department reported hiring 18 additional agents to enforce the prohibited-persons program, half of the agents Attorney General Kamala Harris said would be added after lawmakers approved Senate Bill 140 in May 2013. This month’s report blamed “hiring challenges” and said recruitment will improve with the arrival of additional applicants from the Department of Justice Special Agent Academy.
“Looking ahead to 2015, the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms is on pace to continue to exceed the expectations set forth in Senate Bill 140,” the report reads.
Senate Republicans said Tuesday that the report highlights “the failure of the Attorney General and the DOJ” to address the backlog in the prohibited persons database, an issue that became a Capitol priority in the wake of the December 2012 killings of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Sandy Hook, Conn.
In a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, several GOP senators called for a hearing on the program, in part to demand that justice officials explain how the department has spent 40 percent of the $24 million “when they didn’t hire the needed staff to end the backlog.”
“It is critical given the potential consequences of these firearms remaining in the hands of people that should not have them and the failure of DOJ to meet its own commitments to the Legislature and those required by statute,” Tuesday’s letter reads.
The Senate weeks ago scheduled an April 30 budget subcommittee hearing that will include the Department of Justice. Senators will be able to ask department officials about the prohibited-persons database backlog then, de León spokeswoman Claire Conlon said.
In a statement, Department of Justice spokeswoman Kristin Ford said “removing guns from dangerous, violent individuals who are prohibited by law from owning them has been a top priority of the California Department of Justice” and the 2013 legislation has “has allowed agents to reduce the backlog for the first time in the program’s history and doubled the average number of guns seized per year.”
Harris’ office did not specifically respond to Senate Republicans’ allegations.
California is the only state with a prohibited-persons database that cross-references gun owner licenses with certain criminal convictions, mental health records and active domestic violence restraining orders. In the years after the database began in 2006, authorities blamed a lack of money for hindering efforts to track down those people and confiscate their guns, with about 3,000 people added to the database annually.