California's backlog of criminals illegally in possession of firearms has grown to a record level, a report released by Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Friday shows.
The report found there are now a record 23,222 people the state has identified in the Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS). These are generally people California identified as those who previously purchased firearms legally before committing a crime or being subject to a restraining order that made it illegal for them to possess firearms. The people flagged by the automated system, the only one of its kind in the United States, are referred to the Bureau of Firearms within the California Department of Justice. The bureau is tasked to ensure these individuals haven't illegally retained possession of their previously owned firearms.
The report, however, shows the backlog of those potentially holding onto their firearms illegally has grown nearly every year since the system was created in 2006 despite a slight dip after funding was increased in 2013.
"Since the 2013 backlog, the APPS database has removed approximately 53,101 armed and prohibited persons from APPS," the report said. "At the same time, there have been approximately 56,557 armed and prohibited persons added to the database. As a result, there are currently 23,222 armed and prohibited individuals in APPS and 9,404 of those are active cases. This is an increase of 648 from the previous year when there were 22,574 prohibited persons in APPS."
Additionally, while California removed 10,681 people from the database in 2018, most cases—6,268—cleared from APPS were the result of the person's prohibition against owning firearms expiring. The 4,142 that were cleared as the result of law enforcement actions appear to be the result of either local law enforcement seizures, the firearm being reported lost or stolen by the prohibited person, or the prohibited person legally selling or giving away the firearm.
Bureau of Firearms agents seized a total of 2,290 firearms in 2018 according to the report, but only 1,246 of those seizures were associated with the APPS program. It said the agents closed an additional 7,373 APPS cases but that number "is not reflective of the number of times agents attempted to locate an APPS individual or had to visit third party residences; it only captures the number of closed cases."
Republicans said Becerra's focus on fighting President Trump in court, where he has filed 46 suits against the federal government during Trump’s time in office, is at least partially to blame for the failure to make a significant dent in the APPS backlog.
"Republicans have demanded oversight and accountability in the APPS program, but Democrats have rejected our requests at every opportunity," assembly Republican leader Marie Waldron told the Los Angeles Times. "This failure is the result. Maybe Attorney General Becerra should focus a little less on fights with the federal government and a lot more on his job as California’s top law enforcement officer."
Becerra pointed to the increase in gun ownership in California over the past decade, going from 927,686 known firearms owners in the state in 2008 to 2,516,836 in 2019, and inadequate funding as causes of the continued backlog.
"We have tons of cases coming in," Becerra told the Times. "More cases are coming in than our 50 agents can process."
Becerra's office did not immediately respond to questions about the backlog when asked by the Washington Free Beacon. Becerra did defend his enforcement of the law in a press release, calling it "smart and efficient."
"California will continue to set an example for the rest of the nation when it comes to removing illegal firearms from our neighborhoods," said Attorney General Becerra. "This is smart and efficient law enforcement. I am proud of our agents, who put themselves in dangerous situations on a daily basis in order to protect our families. My office remains committed to our mission: taking firearms away from dangerous and violent individuals."