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California seizes guns from owners - and it might become a national model

Published time: March 12, 2013 17:18
Edited time: March 13, 2013 14:05
Steel workers look over a pile confiscated illegal weapons in  Rancho Cucamonga, California (AFP Photo / David McNew)

Steel workers look over a pile confiscated illegal weapons in Rancho Cucamonga, California (AFP Photo / David McNew)

In California, the government is already coming for the guns.

Notwithstanding the Second Amendment, rules and regulations across the United States outline certain restrictions for who can legally possess a firearm. In the state of California, factors such as a felony conviction or a history of mental health issues mean roughly 20,000 gun owners are holding onto their firearms illegally. Slowly but surely, though, Golden State police officers are prying them away. There’s more, though: backers of the program suggest this becomes a nation-wide practice, and are asking the White House to help make it happen.

“Very, very few states have an archive of firearm owners like we have,” Garen Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program tells Bloomberg News. Wintemute helped set up a program on the West Coast that monitors not just licensed gun owners but also watches for any red flags that could be raised after admittance to a mental health institute or a quick stint in the slammer.

Wintemute says that as many as 200,000 people across the United States may no longer be qualified to own firearms, and in California they are making sure that number drops day by day. In one example cited in this week’s Bloomberg report, journalists recall a recent scene where nine California Justice Department agents equipped with 40-caliber Glock pistols and outfitted in bulletproof vests knocked on a suburban residence, requested to speak to a certain gun owner and then walked away with whatever arsenal they could apprehend.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris seized roughly 2,000 weapons last year, reports Bloomberg, as well as 117,000 rounds of ammunition and 11,000 high-capacity magazines. But as concerns escalate about a possible war against the right to bear arms in America, will other states soon follow suite?

In California, some shortcuts are already meaning weapons are being removed from lawful owners. Bloomberg reports cite the example of 48-year-old Lynette Phillips, a California woman who was recently hospitalized for mental illness. When a team of agents went to collect her two registered firearms, they also walked out with one registered to her husband.

“The prohibited person can’t have access to a firearm,” regardless of who the registered owner is, said Michelle Gregory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.

In other cities and towns across the country, Americans are standing up against what many say are unconstitutional attempts to disarm the United States. In New York State, new legislation is making it harder for Americans to purchase firearms, and one provision will provide gun owners with a felony charge if they ignore new registration rules — which is enough on its own to make owning guns illegal. Across the board more states are demanding stricter background checks, but as efforts to remove weapons from the hands of Americans — voluntarily and involuntarily — are ramped up, though, those that disagree are doing what they can to keep their country armed.

In the wake of last year’s massacres in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut — among others — lawmakers and the public at large have called on Americans for a mass disarming. Gun buyback programs are being touted in countless cities, and in California the attorney general is hoping for even more help at getting guns away from their once-lawful owners — Attorney General Harris has asked Vice President Joe Biden for help and has asked state lawmakers to increase the number of agents tasked with collecting weapons up to 33. She also told Mr. Biden that she thought the efforts coming out of California could be a good model of a national program, reports Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, though, others are making sure weapons aren’t being put to waste. Residents in Maine hit the polls this week to vote on a law that would require everyone in the town of Byron to register a high-powered weapon.

"It was never my intention to force anyone to own a gun who doesn't want to. My purpose was to make a statement in support of the Second Amendment,” Head Selectman Anne Simmons-Edmund tells US News & World Report.

"I'm just here because I'd rather see weapons stay with people, rather than turned in to be melted," a man named Joe, who declined to provide his last name, tells the Bainbridge Island Review. "I'm here to exercise the Second Amendment," he added. "Even if I don't get anything, honestly, I'd just rather see people keep them."