Unique California gun program clears fewer cases in 2019

LOS ANGELES (AP) — State authorities cleared 8.6% fewer cases last year regarding people who no longer are allowed to own firearms, down from a record high in 2018, through a unique California program.

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Records show officials last year also finally closed the program's pre-July 2013 backlog of nearly 21,000 cases — completing the final 538 cases in March 2019. The state Legislature in 2013 had appropriated $24 million to close the gap within three years.

Still, fully 7,747 cases dating after July 2013 remain active, according to a California Department of Justice report released Wednesday.

The only-in-California Armed and Prohibited Persons System, known as APPS, cross-matches databases to find people who legally purchased weapons but are now banned from ownership because they have been convicted of felonies or have a history of domestic violence or mental illness. State and local authorities then can move to seize the weapons under the program, which began in 2006.

The system included 22,424 people as of Jan. 1.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said the unit needs more agents to process investigations. Though 71 positions were authorized for 2020, only 45 are filled. The attorney general has said his office may always have a problem clearing cases unless agents get raises that bring their salaries more in line with other law enforcement agencies.

His latest report includes recommendations for improving coordination between agencies and calls for money to improve the state’s firearms database systems.

Rifles and shotguns were added in 2014 to the program, which previously targeted handgun owners. Becerra has estimated that at least 10,000 cases will likely be added to the program each year, roughly the same number agents are clearing annually.

In 2018, agents cleared a record 10,681 cases even as a high of 11,333 people were added to the system. Last year, they closed 9,755 investigations and 8,957 people were put on the list.

Republican lawmakers have long criticized Democrat Becerra and his predecessor, Kamala Harris — a U.S. senator who unsuccessfully ran for president — for not ending the pre-2013 backlog sooner.

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Associated Press journalist Don Thompson contributed from Sacramento.

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