California faces backlog of 40,000 weapons in hands of felons, mentally ill

by  |  published on February 7, 2013

Amid a national debate about preventing the mentally ill from owning firearms, one state has a potentially potent weapon — in California, officials are allowed to confiscate guns from convicted felons and those with a history of mental illness.

Just one problem. Staff shortages and funding cuts in recent years have left a backlog of nearly 20,000 people to disarm, says Stephen Lindley, chief of the Bureau of Firearms for the state Department of Justice.

According to the state DOJ, that’s nearly 40,000 handguns and assault weapons currently in circulation that shouldn’t be.

As Capitol Hill begins to debate a raft of anti-gun violence measures — ranging from gun control bills to proposals to improve screening and the mental health system — California officials are trying to take matters into their own hands.

After Lindley testified at a hearing last week that his office lacks enough staff to confiscate weapons from felons and the mentally ill — which are recorded in the state’s Armed Prohibited Persons database — lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill that would free up funds for that job.

Democratic Sen. Mark Leno is sponsoring a bill that would allow the state to dip into funds collected when gun buyers pay for background checks – about $19 a person. Using that money to hire more agents, he said, would allow the state to start to chip away at the nearly 40,000 weapons on the street and in homes that, according to the law, shouldn’t be.

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