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Gov. gets bill to take prohibited guns off streets

The Assembly today passed a Bay Area lawmaker’s bill that would provide more resources to find and confiscate guns belonging to convicted felons and the mentally ill.

SB 819 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, passed on a 48-23 vote; the state Senate had approved it June 1 on a 22-16 vote, so it now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

SB 819 – sponsored by state Attorney General Kamala Harris – would let the state Justice Department use money from the $19 Dealer Record of Sale fee that’s collected on each firearm sale to enforce the existing Armed Prohibited Persons System program. APPS, launched in 2007, identifies prohibited persons so law enforcement can go collect the illegally possessed weapons.

The state Justice Department’s Bureau of Firearms has identified more than 18,000 Californians who illegally own tens of thousands of firearms, a list that grows by 15 to 20 per day. But state and local officials say they lack the resources to confiscate this enormous backlog of weapons, much less keep up with new additions to the list.

Leno calls that “a troubling blind spot in our current enforcement of firearms laws.”

“Thousands of gun owners who once obtained their weapons legally still possess firearms despite subsequent issues, including criminal activities, that disqualify them from owning weapons,” he said in a news release today. “Innocent lives have been lost because we allow guns to be in the hands of known criminals, gang members and people who have serious mental illnesses. SB 819 helps remedy this troubling threat to public safety.”

To be clear: It’s not raising any more money for the state, just authorizing another purpose for which the DROS fee money can be used. The Justice Department has estimated it wouyld draw about $1 million per year from the DROS fund for this; the fund currently holds about $5.5 million.

The California Association of Firearms Retailers has argued that the DROS fee is supposed to pay for the costs of a criminal and mental background check to determine a buyer’s eligibility to lawfully own a firearm, and so redirecting some of it to another, more general purpose effectively turns it into a tax.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.