Audit: Courts Failed To Properly Report Mentally Ill Gun Owners
From 2010 to 2012, dozens of California superior courts failed to properly report to the state Department of Justice about individuals who should be prohibited from owning a firearm because of mental illness, according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of State Audits, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Miller, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/29).
California is the only state with a database that lists individuals disqualified from owning firearms because of serious mental illnesses, criminal convictions or restraining orders. State law enforcement officials have the authority to seize weapons from individuals not permitted to own them.
Staff shortages and funding cuts have slowed the process of removing firearms from Californians who own such weapons illegally (California Healthline, 5/2).
The state Department of Justice estimates that more than 20,800 residents with mental illnesses, felons and other individuals who are banned from owning a gun currently possess a firearm (Calefati, Contra Costa Times, 10/29).
In May, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a bill (SB 140) that allocated $24 million to hire 36 additional special agents and support staff for efforts to disarm individuals who are prohibited from possessing guns. The funds come from fees paid by individuals receiving background checks before purchasing guns (California Healthline, 5/2).
Details of the Report
The state auditor examined 34 courts that from 2010 to 2012 reported few or no determinations of individuals who should be banned from owning guns from 2010 to 2012 (Contra Costa Times, 10/29). Of those, 29 courts said they were unaware of the reporting requirement (Pringle, "KXJZ News, " Capital Public Radio, 10/29).
Superior courts failed to file at least 2,300 required firearm prohibition reports during that time, according to the report (Contra Costa Times, 10/29).
The report also found that, during the two-year period:
- The justice department made incorrect decisions about whether an individual with mental illness should be considered an "armed prohibited person";
- Department supervisors did not review such decisions ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/29); and
- Incomplete reports were filed by superior courts in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Santa Clara counties.
The report concluded that the justice department "has not sufficiently reached out to superior courts or mental health facilities to remind them of firearm prohibition reporting requirements."
The report recommended that officials with the justice department increase outreach to courts that might be under-reporting data about individuals with mental illnesses who possess guns.
The report said that the justice department also should "strengthen its management of the information it does receive" (McGreevy, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 10/29).
Justice Department's Response
The justice department largely agreed with the report's recommendations.
Stephen Lindley -- chief of the department's bureau of firearms -- said the department already is working to improve outreach and might hire additional staff to review decisions on individuals who are prohibited from owning a firearm ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/29).
Lindley said that state officials "cannot compel courts to submit mental health determinations" but added that the department will:
- Offer training for court personnel; and
- Request periodic reports from courts that are suspected of under-reporting ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 10/29).