California State Senate Republicans want to know why Attorney General Kamala Harris hasn’t cracked down harder on convicts and mentally ill people with guns – but Harris’ office says it’s making progress and can’t do the task overnight.
The GOP caucus wrote a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León on Tuesday to request an oversight hearing on why the state still has a huge backlog in its Armed and Prohibited Persons program (APPS), a database that cross-references California firearm owners with domestic violence restraining orders, mental health records and criminal histories to identify people who can’t legally own firearms.
Harris’ office reported to the Legislature this month that the 21,249-entry backlog that existed at 2014’s start grew by 7,031 more names last year due to new firearms prohibitions.
But 3,922 names were cleared from the database due to warrants being cleared, restraining orders being vacated by judges, or deaths, and 6,879 more names were cleared after investigation. Harris reported her agents investigated 7,573 cases, resulting in the seizure of 3,286 firearms and 137 arrests.
That still leaves 17,479 prohibited persons on the list, holding up to about 35,000 firearms and 1,419 assault weapons, Harris’ report said.
Lawmakers passed and Gov. Jerry Brown in May 2013 signed SB 140, authorizing $24 million more for the state Justice Department to put toward APPS over the following three years. Harris said in a news release at the time that this would 36 more agents for the program, which she and staffers said was a high priority. But Republicans say only half that many have been hired so far.
Now the GOP lawmakers want a joint oversight hearing by the Senate Public Safety Committee and the relevant budget subcommittee to review the APPS program. Specifically, they want to know how 40 percent of the SB 140 money was spent without hiring all the staff needed to erase the backlog; Harris’ plan for future spending to actually erase the backlog; and why Harris’ report left out information – which they say is required under SB 140 – regarding the breakdown of why each person in the APPS is prohibited from having a firearm.
Kristin Ford, Harris’ press secretary, responded Tuesday that “removing guns from dangerous, violent individuals who are prohibited by law from owning them has been a top priority of the California Department of Justice.”
“Upon taking office Attorney General Harris hired agents and urged the legislature to fund efforts to eliminate a backlog that was created ten years ago,” Ford said. “This funding has allowed agents to reduce the backlog for the first time in the program’s history and doubled the average number of guns seized per year.”