california local news

Despite modest progress, California still lists more than 23,000 prohibited gun owners

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

More than 23,000 Californians possess firearms despite criminal convictions, restraining orders, mental illnesses and other prohibitions under the Golden State’s pioneering law aimed at disarming dangerous people, the state’s top law enforcement official said Monday, a frustratingly large number that reflects ongoing bureaucratic snags and a need for more enforcement funding.

In an annual report on the program, Attorney General Rob Bonta pointed to some progress — the number listed in the Armed and Prohibited Persons System dropped for a second straight year. And last year, authorities removed 1,443 guns from people on the state’s list, a four-year high, though less than half the peak in 2017 when officials seized 3,685 guns.

“The goal is simple here: keep the number of illegally armed individuals as low as possible,” said Bonta as he announced findings of a required annual report on the program. “Because of this program, more guns are off our streets and out of dangerous hands. We have more work to do, we know that, so we’re going to keep at it.”

California in 2006 became the first state to create a system that would identify people who had legally acquired firearms but failed to relinquish them after certain criminal convictions, active court protective orders or mental health adjudications. It was inspired by a workplace shooting in which a convicted felon barred from possessing guns fatally shot four coworkers. One other state, Illinois, has since adopted a similar system, Bonta said.

The Armed and Prohibited Persons System creates a list of illegal gun owners by cross-referencing firearm purchase records with legal system records.

The gun owner then gets flagged in the state’s APPS database for state or local law enforcement to follow up. But follow-up has been an ongoing issue, and the state’s list of armed and prohibited persons at the start of each year has more than doubled from 10,266 in 2008 to a high of 24,509 in 2022, as more people were added to the list than removed in most years.

The backlog dipped to 23,869 in 2023 and again to 23,451 in 2024, the second straight year in which removals from the list topped additions.

Last year, the state removed 9,051 people from the list, but fewer than half — 3,449 — were dropped for relinquishing firearms. In 249 cases last year, the prohibited person had died. But most — 5,353 — were delisted because the reason for their prohibition had expired. Misdemeanor convictions prohibit gun ownership for 10 years, mental health adjudications for five years, and restraining order prohibitions also are temporary, in some cases just five to 21 days, the report said.

The ongoing backlog has drawn criticism from both sides of the gun law debate. Backers of California’s gun restrictions — among the most extensive in the country — have called it a failure of the system’s promise. Gun rights advocates, meanwhile, have called it a bureaucratic mess and waste of taxpayer resources, noting the list is full of outdated or inaccurate information, that prohibited gun owners weren’t in most cases committing crimes with guns, and that cops have more pressing priorities.

The report recommended modernization of the database and “more consistent firearm relinquishment” of gun owners by local authorities when the person is either convicted of a prohibiting crime or subjected to a restraining order, something it acknowledged will require funding.

Some recent laws have added to the burden of enforcing the gun prohibitions, such as California’s 2016 “red flag” law allowing family members and others to obtain a temporary order in civil court to disarm a gun owner for acting erratically.

The report said that the state DOJ “has experienced an increase in the past few years of people being added to the database” because red-flag orders were entered into the prohibited persons database, though it added that the department “applauds these efforts to enhance public safety.”

It’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court could shrink the numbers added to the database as it weighs a case in which a Texas man argues his Second Amendment gun rights were violated by a court protective order for a girlfriend he physically abused, though the justices seem skeptical.

Of the guns removed last year, 901 — or 62% — had been listed as being lawfully acquired through purchase records, while 542 were not associated with purchase records but were removed anyway. The removed weapons included 683 handguns, 364 rifles, 216 shotguns, as well as 39 military style “assault weapons” prohibited in California, 88 “ghost guns” made by an unlicensed producer without serial numbers — a 63% increase compared to the 54 ghost guns seized during 2022 — 51 gun frames and 2 short-barreled shotguns.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.