Culture

Outgunned: Why California’s groundbreaking firearms law is failing


Julia Weber, who works on policy issues for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Two decades ago, California legislators added a new weapon to the state’s growing arsenal of gun-control measures, already among the toughest in the nation. Their motivation came from 2,000 miles away in a shaken Chicago suburb.

It was there that a gunman opened fire in an engine factory where he’d worked for nearly 40 years. He killed four people and wounded four others before pulling the trigger on himself. It was soon revealed that some of the weapons he smuggled inside should have been earlier confiscated because of his past criminal convictions.

In the wake of the rampage, and with lofty expectations, California became the first state in the country to create a database identifying thousands of people who’d legally purchased guns but were now deemed too dangerous to be armed.

In a rare display of bipartisanship — especially on an issue as fractious as gun control — the California Legislature wanted to give state and local authorities a methodical way to remove firearms from individuals who’d lost their right to bear them because of violent crimes, serious mental health issues or active restraining orders.

But what seemed at the time like a straight-forward approach to the enforcement of existing gun laws has instead become mired in chronic shortcomings, failing for years to make good on its potential. Successive administrations have vowed to fix the problems, but all have fallen short.

Today, the state is struggling to recover thousands of guns from people who have been ordered to surrender them. At the start of the year, the list compiled by the state Department of Justice had swelled to 24,000 individuals, the most ever. The pandemic only worsened the mounting backlog of cases when some state Justice Department agents were pulled from field enforcement.

“We are lucky to have a system that tells us this information,” said Julia Weber, a former supervising attorney for the state courts’ administration who now works on gun policy issues for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “But it’s disheartening. It’s a failure of the promise of the system.”

CalMatters spent three months examining the layered troubles of the Armed and Prohibited Persons System, interviewing current and former law enforcement officers, gun control advocates, lawmakers and researchers. The news outlet also contacted hundreds of law enforcement agencies across California to assess their engagement — or lack thereof — with the system.

The state would not provide names of individuals in its database, citing confidentiality restrictions. But CalMatters obtained a small sampling dating back to March through separate requests to local law enforcement agencies that had received state Justice Department  information for their jurisdictions. They provide a glimpse of the stakes behind the statistics.

In Santa Paula, a woman in the database has been ordered to surrender her guns because of a mental health-related prohibition. She’s listed as having 22 of them. In Ukiah, an accused domestic abuser is believed to have 44 guns. A Central Valley man awaiting trial on a rape …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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