Senate Republicans Seek Oversight Hearing to examine significant backlog in Attorney General Kamala Harris' Program to Take Guns from Criminals and Mentally Ill

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SACRAMENTO -Senate Republicans sent a letter today to Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León asking for an oversight hearing on why there remains a significant backlog in the seizure of firearms illegally in the possession of criminals and the mentally ill.  According to Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office, the backlog in the number of prohibited persons who possess firearms has only been reduced by 3,770 thereby allowing 17,479 prohibited individuals to continue to illegally possess over 36,000 firearms despite having spent 40 percent of the funds appropriated in 2013 to eliminate the entire backlog.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2013, the Legislature authorized an audit of the California Attorney General’s Armed Prohibited Person System (APPS).  APPS is a unique database that cross-references firearm owners in California against domestic violence restraining orders, and mental health and criminal history records to determine persons who have been, or will become, prohibited from possessing a firearm subsequent to a lawful purchase. The 2013 audit found that there was a backlog of 20,000 armed prohibited persons in California with more than 40,000 firearms.

In response, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 140 authorizing $24 million to the DOJ, which according to a press release by Attorney General Harris would allow her to hire 36 new agents to reduce the backlog.  DOJ now indicates that it only hired 18 additional agents despite claiming that addressing this significant public safety issue was a high priority.

In fact, during a joint hearing of the Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committees on January 29, 2013, DOJ Firearms Bureau Chief Stephen Lindley stated that the APPS was “a priority for Attorney General Kamala Harris,” and that the department could “arrest and investigate” its way out of the backlog in a three-year period with “roughly $8 million per year.”  Upon further questioning by the Legislature, Chief Lindley agreed that with a $25 million appropriation in theory it would be possible to eliminate the backlog in just one year.

In the letter, Senate Republicans ask for a joint oversight hearing by the Senate Public Safety Committee and Senate Budget Subcommittee #5 to review the APPS program and the recent report outlining its lack of significant progress in clearing the APPS backlog.  This oversight hearing should investigate:

  1. How the Attorney General spent 40 of the funds when they didn’t hire the needed staff to end the backlog.
  2. The Attorney General's plan for future expenditures to actually eliminate the APPS backlog.
  3. Why the Attorney General’s office omitted information required under SB 140 regarding the breakdown of why each person in the APPS is prohibited from possessing a firearm.