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State confiscates thousands of illegally owned guns

POSTED June 17, 2011 8:46 p.m.

A six-week statewide sweep of individuals legally barred from owning firearms has resulted in the confiscation of 1,209 guns, the California Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday.

About 90 percent of the seized firearms were in the possession of people who had been prohibited from owning guns because they had been determined to be mentally unstable, according to the attorney general’s office. The remaining 10 percent were taken from individuals with active restraining orders or convictions related to domestic violence and had been ordered to surrender all their firearms.

In addition to the firearms, Department of Justice agents seized 155,731 rounds of ammunition and two grenades.

"Seizing guns from felons, gang members and other prohibited persons is the kind of smart, proactive law enforcement that makes a difference in the everyday lives of Californians," said Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. "We are all safer thanks to the sworn officers who carried out this sweep and I am committed to strengthening this program."

The sweep was carried out through the Armed and Prohibited Persons System. APPS was created in 2001 in response to a high-profile murder case that involved a person prohibited from owning firearms.

The system works by cross-referencing five databases of people who legally purchases firearms, but were subsequently ordered to relinquish them. Reasons for individuals being barred from owning firearms include felony convictions, a history of violence, severe mental illness, or being a wanted person.

For years APPS has not been strictly enforced and Harris estimated there is a backlog of approximately 34,000 handguns and 1,600 assault rifles that are in the possession of barred individuals statewide.

The only other APPS sweep was conducted in 2007, with 422 firearms seized.

In response to the backlog, Harris has sponsored Senate Bill 819, which would add the word “possession” to the current California penal code and would allow the DOJ to use money from existing fees collected by gun dealers to pay for the APPS program. Gun dealers are required to collect a $25 registration fee on each firearm transaction.

The bill would also allow the DOJ to seek to hire new agents, and offer training to local law enforcement agencies in support of the APPS program.

"SB 819 addresses a troubling blind spot in our current enforcement of existing firearms laws," said Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, author of SB 819. "Innocent lives have already been lost because we allow guns to be in the hands of known criminals, gang members and people who have serious mental illnesses. Increased confiscation of these unlawfully-possessed firearms will help prevent future crimes and result in cost savings to the state due to avoided prosecution and incarceration."

The sweep was carried out through April and May in 43 counties. The 1,209 firearms were seized from 723 individuals. Additionally, agents arrested 12 people on suspicion of illegally owning assault rifles or grenades.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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