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California governor signs law funding seizure of legally purchased guns

Published time: May 02, 2013 16:57
Edited time: May 03, 2013 15:44
AFP Photo / Jewel Samad

AFP Photo / Jewel Samad

California Gov. Jerry Brown has approved legislation that will allocate $24 million to hire special agents that will track down and seize guns from 20,000 Californians who have been disqualified from owning them.

Thousands of Californians have made legal purchases of handguns or assault rifles, but have since become ineligible from owning them due to mental illness or a criminal conviction. The measure, SB 140, will provide the funds for agents to find these individuals and confiscate their weapons.

Mark Len (D-San Francisco), author of the new legislation, said California has a system that tracks cases in which gun owners became disqualified from keeping their weapons, but has always lacked the funds to go after them.

“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,” he 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.”

In a three-year period, about 20,000 Californians owning about 40,000 weapons became ineligible to keep them, according to the state’s Bureau of Firearms. The $24 million in surplus funds, which comes from fees paid when Californians purchase weapons, will provide dozens of agents the means to find the illegally owned firearms. 

“This bipartisan bill makes our communities safer by giving law enforcement the resources they need to get guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals,” Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor, told the Los Angeles Times.

But opponents of the new legislation are disturbed that the money for the gun seizures comes from fees inflicted upon lawful gun buyers.

“Going after criminals is a good thing, but the way they are paying for it is grossly unfair,” Sam Parades, executive director of Gun Owners of California, told the LA Times, arguing that the program should be paid for by the state general fund. “They are putting the entire burden on the back of law-abiding gun purchasers.”

Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee), told the Huffington Post that the surplus funds should be used to conduct background checks, not to hunt down gun owners.

“For example, if you go to the DMV and pay for a driver’s license, that fee is for possessing 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.”

Some Americans have taken a stand against what some call an unconstitutional attempt to disarm people.

But lawmakers who backed the new measure believe California will become a role model in regards to gun control, and that other US states will soon follow in its footsteps. Garen Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program told Bloomberg News that as many as 200,000 people in the US possess firearms but are no longer qualified to own them.

In 2012, California Attorney General Kamala Harris seized about 2,000 weapons, 117,000 rounds of ammunition and 11,000 high-capacity magazines.  And with $24 million to track down disqualified gun owners, the state of California is now working to seize 40,000 more.

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