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Gov. Jerry Brown signs law to fund gun seizures

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a Bay Area senator’s bill to use $24 million from gun background-check fees to boost a program that takes handguns and assault weapons away from those who aren’t legally allowed to have them.

This is the first gun-policy bill to make it to Brown’s desk this year.

SB 140 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, gives a big boost to the state Justice Department’s Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which cross-references the state’s list of handgun and assault-weapon owners with ever-updated lists of newly convicted felons and mental-health commitments. APPS, launched in 2007, had developed a huge backlog; the new law is effective immediately because it was designated an urgency measure.

“While our state is the only one in the nation that has a system to track and identify persons who at one time made legal purchases of firearms but are now barred from possessing them, until now we have lacked sufficient resources to take back those weapons,” Leno said in a news release. “We know for the safety of our communities that these people should not possess guns, and our reinvestment in this tracking program gives us the opportunity to confiscate them.”

The Justice Department’s Firearms Bureau has identified about 20,000 Californians who illegally possess an estimated 40,000 handguns and assault weapons, and the list grows longer by 15 to 20 people per day. Attorney General Kamala Harris said the money will let her increase the number of agents who go out and seize these firearms.

Agents last year seized more than 2,000 firearms, 117,000 rounds of ammunition and 11,072 illegal high-capacity magazines in targeted sweeps.

Gun-rights and lobbying groups including the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the California Rifle and Pistol Association had opposed the bill, saying lawful gun owners shouldn’t pay the cost of such a program; any surplus background-check fee money should be returned or lead to a reduction in the fee, they said.

The Legislature’s final votes on SB 140 were 65-10 in the Assembly and 37-0 in the state Senate.

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.