Orange County Register: Uncollected illegal guns put Californians at risk

By Senator Patricia Bates
Monday, March 25, 2019

Published by the Orange County Register on March 22, 2019

In the aftermath of the horrific massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, the gun control debate has flared up yet again over how best to prevent gun violence.

While it is not easy to find common ground on solutions, I hope we can agree that taking guns away from high-risk individuals with criminal histories and mental health challenges should be a top priority for government.

In California, such a tool already exists to help the state government do its job, which is called the Armed & Prohibited Persons System (APPS). Enacted with unanimous support in 2001, APPS is a database that was created in response to high-profile murder cases involving people prohibited from owning firearms.

APPS cross-references five databases to find people who legally purchased firearms since 1996 with those subsequently prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. Prohibited persons include felons, individuals with a history of violence, those with mental illness, and those wanted by law enforcement.

Despite funding increases from the Legislature, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) is still facing challenges in adequately enforcing this reasonable bipartisan gun control measure. Nowhere is this more evident than when Attorney General Xavier Becerra released his annual APPS report to the Legislature on March 1. As Attorney General, Becerra leads the DOJ and is tasked with disarming the people on the APPS list.

Alarmingly, this year’s report reflected a systematic failure in clearing the APPS backlog of people who have yet to be searched. A careful reading of the report finds that 23,222 armed and prohibited people are still on the backlog list.

Of those, the cases of 13,818 people are still “pending,” meaning an investigation has been started but the person has not been found, or was found but the firearms were not. The person is still on the backlog list because the case is not closed.

Then there are 9,404 “active” cases, the ones the DOJ has not even started on yet. They are “pre-pending.”

Equally disturbing, the Legislature learned that 538 active cases have been ignored because they are located in rural areas. Mr. Becerra said limited resources make it inefficient to work these cases. Perhaps state assistance could be provided to local law enforcement to address these threats in rural communities.

Finally, the APPS backlog grew by 648 cases over last year’s. Yet, Becerra’s report states he has “successfully tackled” the backlog. There are still 23,222 unresolved cases in APPS, and the list is growing, not shrinking. How does that mesh with “successfully tackled”?

Becerra says he has had a hard time keeping the sworn agents in their jobs to enforce APPS because they are required to have college degrees and the compensation is not as competitive with other law enforcement agencies. I and many of my colleagues are sympathetic to such concerns.

However, it should be noted that since 2013, the Legislature has provided the DOJ more than $70 million for APPS enforcement. We were told by former Attorney General Kamala Harris’ team that the backlog could be handled in one year if the Legislature provided more funding. Republicans and Democrats came together to approve the requested funding. Yet today the backlog has grown.

Eliminating the APPS backlog should be a no-brainer. I have asked Becerra for strategies to eliminate the backlog and will continue to work with my colleagues to make progress on this critical public safety issue.

APPS plays a key role in helping keep our communities safe. The evidence suggests that APPS enforcement is not meeting expectations. Californians deserve better.