An effort to take firearms from those individuals the state has deemed no longer allowed to own them resulted in nearly 11,000 investigations and more than 2,000 guns seized last year, according to a recently released report from the California Attorney General’s Office.
The State of California is the first and only state in the nation to establish an automated system for monitoring known firearm owners who might fall into a prohibited status. The Armed and Prohibited Persons System database works to identify individuals who previously procured firearms but later became prohibited from legally owning them because they were convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, placed under a domestic violence or other restraining order, or suffer from serious mental illness.
APPS went into effect in 2006, and over the course of its existence, the number of known firearms and firearm owners in California has steadily increased. By 2013, there was a backlog of 20,721 cases. That year, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 140, which provided the California Department of Justice with $24 million dollars to address the growing backlog. The bill also mandated annual reports detailing the progress made in reducing the backlog.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that in 2018 the number of backlog cases was down to 538 active investigations and those are expected to be completed by March 31.
In 2018, the Department removed an annual record number of 10,681 prohibited persons from the APPS database. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Firearms uses Criminal Intelligence Specialists and sworn Special Agents to locate and disarm prohibited persons identified through APPS. Agent enforcement activities removed 4,142 of the cases last year. The remaining 6,539 cases were removed due to the APPS individual being deceased, the prohibition expiring and/or no longer prohibited. At the same time, an annual record number of 11,333 prohibited persons were added to the APPS database. As a result, the APPS database currently has 23,222 prohibited persons.
Since the 2013 backlog, the APPS database has removed 53,101 armed and prohibited persons from APPS. The Department has around 9,400 active cases, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
"More cases are coming in than our 50 agents can process, and so if we don't do something ... we will continue to see an incremental rise in the number of cases that we haven't touched," Becerra said. "No one wants that."
The number has increased particularly since rifles and shotguns were added in 2014 to a program that previously targeted handgun owners. Becerra said at least 10,000 cases will likely be added to the program each year, roughly the same number that agents are clearing annually.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to increase the program's funding yet again, adding $5.6 million because of the increased workload for a total of nearly $17 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
That extra money would be enough to hire 20 additional agents, yet Becerra said his department will continue having problems recruiting and retaining agents for the program unless their salaries are substantially increased.
A special agent's starting salary is 44 percent below the statewide average for entry level law enforcement positions, he said, but he could not say what it would cost to bring their salaries closer to the level paid to highway patrol officers, correctional officers and local law enforcement officers.
As of Jan. 1, 47 percent of the cases in APPS are prohibited due to a felony conviction, 25 percent are prohibited due to the Federal Brady Act, 18 percent are prohibited due to a restraining order, 17 percent are prohibited due to mental health triggering events, 11 percent are prohibited due to a misdemeanor conviction, and 8 percent are prohibited as per the conditions of their probation. Many cases have more than one prohibition so the numbers do not equal 100 percent.
In 2018, the Bureau with their total of 50 agents made an estimated 22,119 contacts to APPS armed and prohibited persons. Those agents recovered 2,290 firearms, some of which were firearms not known to be associated to APPS individuals.
“California will continue to set an example for the rest of the nation when it comes removing illegal firearms from our neighborhoods,” said Becerra. “This is smart and efficient law enforcement. I am proud of our agents, who put themselves in dangerous situations on a daily basis in order to protect our families. My office remains committed to our mission: taking firearms away from dangerous and violent individuals. We look forward to working with our Governor and legislature and our local partners to fulfill this mission.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.