The California state legislature passed a bill Thursday approving $24 million to expedite the confiscation of the estimated 40,000 handguns and assault weapons illegally owned by Californians.
SB 140, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), seeks to remedy the gun-confiscation backlog that has left thousands of illegal guns on the streets, including those owned by those with criminal convictions or serious mental illness.
“We are fortunate in California to have the first and only system in the nation that tracks and identifies individuals who at one time made legal purchases of firearms but are now barred from possessing them,” Leno said in a statement. “However, due to a lack of resources, only a few of these illegally possessed weapons have been confiscated, and the mountain of firearms continues to grow each day."
The measure will take $24 million from the Dealer Record of Sale (DROS) surplus funds and give it to the California Department of Justice, which is in charge of confiscating illegal guns. The DROS account holds fees that are imposed upon every transfer or sale of a firearm in California.
Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee) said he voted against the measure because the fees that make up the DROS funds are intended to cover the cost of background checks -- not confiscations.
"For example, if you go to the DMV and pay for a driver's license, that fee is for processing the driver's license, not for setting up sting operations for catching drunk drivers," he said.
"If the legislature wants to raise extra funds for the DOJ, it would have to impose a tax on firearm sales, which requires a two-thirds vote," he added.
Brandon Combs, executive director of the gun advocacy group Calguns Foundation, agrees that gun confiscation should be paid for out of the state's general fund. His and other pro-gun groups have argued that California's fees on gun buyers are exorbitant.
"The state should not be stealing millions of dollars from gun owners who were overcharged," Combs said.
The funds will go toward enforcing the California DOJ's Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) program, which began in 2007. APPS cross-references various databases to check people who have legally purchased handguns and registered assault weapons since 1996 against individuals who are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms.
APPS also cross-references gun owners with individuals who have reported to the state DOJ as mentally ill. Doctors and hospitals are required to report to the state individuals who were found to be a danger to themselves or others, or who were certified for intensive treatment for a mental disorder.
Lynda Gledhill, spokesperson for the California DOJ, said that of the individuals deemed unfit to own guns, about 30 percent have a criminal record, 30 percent are mentally ill, 20 percent have a restraining order out on them and a small percentage have a warrant out for their arrest.
California is the only U.S. state where law enforcement officials confiscate guns from the homes of individuals not legally permitted to own them. Because gun-confiscating agents do not obtain search warrants, their job involves convincing people to let them into their homes and hand over their guns. If an individual does turn over a gun, he or she can be arrested on suspicion of illegally owning a firearm.
Over the past five years, agents conducting twice-weekly sweeps have confiscated more than 10,000 guns. Using the $24 million from SB 140, the California DOJ says it would take three years to catch up with the backlog of confiscated illegal guns.
Leno's bill returns to the Senate for approval of some noncontroversial amendments before heading to Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) desk. If SB 140 is signed by the governor, it would take effect immediately.
"This makes enormous sense and is one of the only ways available to reduce access to already purchased firearms," Deborah Azrael, associate director of the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center. "Universal background checks, as much as we should have them, can affect only the next gun purchased, not the sizable reservoir of guns already out there."
Adam Winker, UCLA law professor and expert on constitutional law, commented on the passage of the California bill after the U.S. Congress' failure to enact national gun background checks.
"We're likely to see much more activity at the state level in the wake of Congress's failure to act," Winkler said. "The gun-control movement's best options now are gun-control laws at the state."
UPDATE: Brown signed SB 140 into law on May 1.
Related on HuffPost:
It Spends A Huge Amount Of Money On Lobbying
The National Rifle Association spent between <a href="http://www.policymic.com/articles/11823/james-eagan-holmes-gun-control-debate-nra-still-has-the-numbers-and-the-money" target="_blank">$1.5 million and $2.7 million on federal-level lobbying efforts between 2001 and 2010</a>, and an additional $7.2 million supporting candidates during the 2010 election, according to Policymic. Gun manufacturers themselves have contributed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/11/nra-gun-control-firearms-industry-ties_n_2434142.html" target="_blank">up to $38.9 million to the NRA</a> since 2005.
It Profits From Tragedies
After both the <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-07-24/colorado-gun-sales-surge-after-the-aurora-massacre" target="_blank">Aurora</a> and <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/03/07/1683771/gun-manufacturer-profits/" target="_blank">Newtown</a> massacres, the gun industry saw huge increases in sales.
It Pushes Military-Style Weapons
Faced with a dwindling generation of hunters, the <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-gun-industrys-deadly-addiction-20130228" target="_blank">gun industry has actively promoted military-style weapons</a>, according to Rolling Stone. While sales of hunting style firearms have fallen to just a quarter of the total market, sales of assault rifles and handguns have surged.
Gun Control Legislation Has Passed Many Times Before
The debate over gun control is hardly new. <a href="http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/02/12/in-america-some-say-guns-are-in-our-dna-but-is-history-on-the-side-of-gun-rights-or-gun-control/" target="_blank">Gun control legislation has been passed in 1927, 1934, 1968, 1986, 1993 and 1994</a>, according to The Blaze.
It Doesn't Represent Most Americans
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/gun-control-poll_n_2486116.html" target="_blank">Recent polls</a> have repeatedly shown that <a href="http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/04/03/morning-joe-poll-support-for-gun-control/" target="_blank">most Americans support stricter gun control.</a> However, the <a href="http://www.nbcchicago.com/blogs/ward-room/NRA-Anti-Gun-Poll-Results-Dont-Matter-202356331.html" target="_blank">NRA's chief lobbyist in Illinois</a> said that gun control poll results should have no impact on whether laws should change, NBC Chicago reports.
It Makes A LOT Of Guns
Over the last 25 years, <a href="http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/03/26/guns-at-a-glance-the-top-commercial-firearms-makers-in-america/" target="_blank">100 million guns have been made in the United States</a>, The Blaze reports. In 2011 alone, the <a href="http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/03/26/nr-draft-how-important-are-guns-to-the-u-s-economy-for-starters-the-firearms-industry-employs-twice-as-many-americans-as-bailed-out-gm/" target="_blank">U.S. firearms industry manufactured over 8 million guns</a>. Compare that to the only <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/08/28/us-world-firearms-idUSL2834893820070828" target="_blank">6 million guns that were manufactured worldwide</a> in 2007.
It Fears The Zombie Apocalypse
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President Obama Has Been Good To Them
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It Will Accessorize To Attract Women
Women remain a largely untapped demographic for the gun industry, which is why manufacturers have recently stepped up <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/nation/article/For-gun-industry-women-a-major-market-4267485.php" target="_blank">efforts to attract new female customers</a>. Apparently this <a href="http://www.gungoddess.com/ar-15-pink-stock-set/" target="_blank">pink assault rifle stock set (pictured) from GunGoddess.com</a> is one way the industry hopes to entice women to buy guns. "My intention with offering these products is to encourage women to discover the enjoyment they can get from shooting and the shooting sports, while at the same time not losing sight of the most important goal - taking responsibility for their own protection and learning critical self defense skills," Athena Means, owner of GunGoddess.com, wrote The Huffington Post in an email.
NRA Members Support Background Checks
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It Wants Your Children
<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/us/selling-a-new-generation-on-guns.html?hp" target="_blank">Gun manufacturers have stepped up efforts to market to children</a> by donating to youth groups, sponsoring youth events and advertising military style rifles directly to younger shooters, according to The New York Times.
It Breaks Promises
Smith & Wesson signed a pact with the Clinton administration to cease making weapons that hold more than 10 bullet magazines. It later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/21/smith-wesson-clinton-bush-nra_n_2348503.html" target="_blank">broke that agreement when profits plummeted</a>, The Huffington Post reports. A request for comment from Smith & Wesson was not returned.
The Second Amendment Didn't Used To Apply To Individuals
While the Second Amendment does indeed say that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” that was <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/12/jeffrey-toobin-second-amendment.html" target="_blank">historically interpreted as the right of militias to do so</a>, according to The New Yorker. It was not until a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, commonly referred to as the Heller decision, that the individual right to bear arms was guaranteed under federal law. <em>This slide has been updated to include additional information about the Heller decision.</em>
It Picks Losers
At over $1 million, the <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=Q13" target="_blank">NRA donated more money to Mitt Romney</a> than it did to any other individual in 2011 to 2012, according to Open-Secrets.com.
One Of Its CEOs May Threaten To Kill You
James Yeager, CEO of weapons training company Tactical response, infamously threatened to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/10/james-yeager-start-killing-people-obama-gun-policy_n_2448751.html" target="_blank">"start killing people"</a> over the debate on gun control before <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/15/james-yeager-tactical-response_n_2478594.html" target="_blank">ultimately apologizing</a>.