Audit: Gun Ownership Backlog Persists, Poses Safety Risk
A program to identify whether individuals with mental health issues or histories of violent behavior own guns in violation of a state law has been filled with delays, posing a potential public safety risk, according to a state audit released Thursday, the Los Angeles Times' "L.A. Now" reports (Dolan, "L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/9).
California is the only state that runs a database to cross-reference certain criminal convictions, mental health records and active domestic violence restraining orders when individuals purchase firearms (California Healthline, 5/1). About one-third of individuals in the database are included for mental health reasons.
According to "L.A. Now," matches of people who legally purchased guns before they became ineligible remain in a daily queue until the California Department of Justice determines whether they are correct. The state DOJ aims to keep the number of reports in the queue at no more than 600.
In the first quarter of 2015, the queue had about 3,600 reports of individuals barred from owning guns, according to the audit.
In the report, state Auditor Elaine Howler said, "The longer it takes [the state DOJ] to review the records in its backlogs, the longer armed prohibited persons keep their firearms, which increases the risk to public safety."
In addition, the report found a backlog of 257,000 individuals from before 2006 who might own guns, despite being prohibited to do so under state law.
The report concluded that the state DOJ had failed to:
- Ensure mental health hospitals and courts properly reported all individuals who could be prohibited from owning a gun; and
- Fully implement seven of eight recommendations from 2013 to help reduce the backlog.
The report recommended that the California Legislature require the state DOJ to conduct an initial review of all cases in the database within one week.
In a response, the state DOJ said that the delays in the program were due in large part to:
- Strong sales of guns in California; and
- Loss of staff.
Specifically, the department said it has had to divert staff ordinarily stationed with the cross-referencing system to conduct criminal history checks for gun purchases.
However, the department said that it looked forward to "working with the Legislature on drafting language, identifying positions, funding and information technology enhancements needed to achieve" the goal of completing initial reviews faster.
Meanwhile, Kristin Ford -- a spokesperson for state Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), who oversees the state DOJ -- said, "Despite challenges with hiring and retention, DOJ agents have reduced the ever-growing list of people in California who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for the first time in the program's history and doubled the average number of guns seized per year."
In a statement, the California State Senate Republican Caucus blamed the backlogs on poor management, noting, "This failure lies squarely under the AG's control."
In addition, state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) said, "This is very disturbing to learn as it directly conflicts with testimony given [to] us at a legislative hearing this year" ("L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.