With California Attorney General Xavier Becerra planning on filing his 47th lawsuit against President Donald Trump, he appears more focused on the President than dealing with the 23,222 backlogged cases in the Armed Prohibited Persons System.
The California Department of Justice released its latest report Friday on the status of the Armed Prohibited Persons System, “an automated system for monitoring known firearm owners who might fall into a prohibited status.” However, Becerra chose to focus on the old 2013 backlog of cases, rather than the growing number of current violent or mentally-ill people in California in possession of weapons.
Becerra reported, “since the 2013 backlog, the APPS database has removed 53,101 armed and prohibited persons from APPS. At the same time, there have been 56,557 persons added to the APPS database.”
The program was not originally created as a first-of-its kind database under the Bureau of Firearms in 2006, as is frequently reported. Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte authored SB 950, which created APPS, starting the program in 2001 to allow the cross-referencing of criminal records, mental health records, and court-issued restraining orders of people who owned guns legally.
But the list of backlog of prohibited persons is astounding – and growing every year, largely a result of Proposition 47, Proposition 57, and A.B. 109, which reduced a host of felonies to misdemeanors, allowed early release for newly redefined “non-violent offenders,” and shifted responsibility of repeat, newly classified “nonviolent” offenders from state prisons to county jails, as well as releasing others assigned to county probation officers rather than state parole officers. “Do the math,” Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said. “Forty thousand used to be in custody. Tens of thousands used to be on parole and used to be supervised – and now they are getting away with it.”
Nielsen said they have guns, and most of the formerly incarcerated have more than one gun. “Then if we don’t go out and confiscate those weapons, you know what happens.”
Sen. Nielsen said the Department of Justice continued to ask for more funding, without providing results – even up to yesterday. However, he said he and Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) met with the DOJ Thursday, and had a productive meeting.
The DOJ has been provided with several one-time appropriations increasing the APPS program budget, and has failed to produce results.
By the end of 2018, the DOJ had already spent $62.5 million on APPS enforcement since 2013. And yet there was still a backlog of 10,226 known prohibited persons potentially in possession of guns from the 2013 cases.
“I appreciate that Attorney General Becerra is now focused on removing guns from dangerous individuals,” Sen. Nielsen said. “The program, however, has failed to reduce the number of guns belonging to known criminals and potentially dangerous people.
“The AG identified obstacles and problems, but pointing the finger at the courts, district attorneys and local law enforcements for the delay is not acceptable,” Nielsen added. “In 2013, there were 20,721 names on this list. Now, there are 23,222.”
Armed Prohibited Persons System – Background
In 2013, the staff of then Attorney General Kamala Harris first identified a backlog of 20,721 in the APPS database, and the department secured $24 million from the Legislature to tackle the list. To date, the Attorney General’s office has spent more than $70 million on the APPS program.
Becerra said in Friday’s press conference that the program is understaffed, and the 50 agents he has have to cover 58 counties across the state. Becerra also said the agents were underpaid, making it difficult to recruit when other law enforcement agencies pay significantly higher salaries.
Yet Attorney General Xavier Becerra maintains that the DOJ’s efforts are effective.
Video at a 2013 legislative informational hearing on gun violence, just prior to the Legislature’s approval of the $24 million, make it clear that the State Legislature wanted the backlog handled within one year, and the DOJ agreed.
However, at the hearing representatives of the DOJ suggested that the number of guns in California is the problems, rather than the bad guys who weren’t stopped or had their guns confiscated in the first place.
Stephen Lindley, the Chief of DOJ’s Bureau of Firearms said at the hearing that APPS is the department’s top priority (at the 1:49:00 time). Additionally, Chief Lindley said that 50 new agents were needed at a cost of $8 million per year, and committed to a three-year deadline for handling the backlog. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) asked if it could be done in one year at $25 million, and said it would be “a very wise and worthy investment.” (at the 1:25:25 time)
“It can be done,” confirmed Chief Lindley.
In 2013 when the DOJ first acknowledged the growing backlog of more than 20,000 individuals identified by APPS as unlawfully owning firearms, at the request of then-Attorney General Kamala Harris, SB 140 by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) was enacted with bipartisan support to address the problem by providing the $24 million for DOJ to increase staffing and eliminate the backlog within 1 year. SB 140 required annual reporting on progress toward eliminating the backlog, beginning in 2015. Sen. Nielsen said this annual reporting was rarely done.
In April 2018, Senate Republicans requested the Attorney General conduct an in-depth review of APPS. “We were stonewalled,” Sen. Nielsen said. In addition, Senate Republicans have requested on multiple occasions that the Senate Rules Committee approve a joint oversight hearing to review the APPS program and the lack of progress by DOJ. “The requests have received little to no attention,” Sen. Nielsen added.