EDITORIAL: Progress made to disarm California’s illegal gun owners

Attorney General Kamala Harris has issued her report detailing how she is running a program aimed at taking guns from people who cannot legally possess them.

Despite its successes, the result provided fodder for people who are too willing to criticize legitimate gun control efforts.

Like lawmakers in Washington and several other states, California legislators reacted to the Sandy Hook massacre of 26 children and educators in 2012 by seeking to tighten gun laws. Congress failed to take action, but California approved several measures, including a bill to spend $24 million to speed investigations of people who illegally possess firearms.

The bill paid for additional agents to whittle the backlog of individuals who are registered gun owners but are banned from possessing them because they were subsequently convicted of crimes, were detained for mental illness or became targets of restraining orders.

At the start of 2014, the backlog stood at 21,249 individuals. By the end of March, the number of individuals on the list had fallen to 16,511. That’s progress, for which agents deserve praise.

But responding to Harris’ report, Senate Republicans called on Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León to convene an oversight hearing into what they called a “lack of significant progress in clearing the APPS backlog.”

It’d be great if there were no backlog, but that’s hardly realistic. New names are added to the list constantly, including another 7,000 individuals in 2014.

Even at that, state Department of Justice agents increased the number of investigations to 7,573 in 2014, up from 2,148 in 2012, Harris’ report said. They investigate the cases at no small risk to themselves, by knocking on the doors of illegal gun owners and asking them to voluntarily hand over their weapons.

In a moment of clarity, the National Rifle Association supported the original program, understanding that mentally ill people and criminals should not have guns. The NRA has backtracked, filing a suit claiming that no portion of a $24 state fee collected at the point of a firearm purchase should be used to fund the program. U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill of Fresno sided with the state last month, ruling that the fee didn’t violate gun owners’ Second Amendment rights. An appeal is pending.

Perhaps the program could be done more efficiently. But at least Harris and Department of Justice agents are trying to remove guns from people who by law are prohibited from possessing them. The success comes no thanks to gun advocates who have thrown monkey wrenches into the process.