In 2001, California passed a first-of-its-kind law to create a database of residents who had become prohibited from owning firearms. Whether through criminal conduct or mental health issues, these individuals would be included on a list dubbed the “Armed and Prohibited Persons System” (APPS).
The database is made possible by the state’s firearm registration and universal background check systems, and the California Department of Justice hoped local law enforcement and state agents would be able to use APPS to confiscate firearms from those deemed unfit.
Unfortunately for Golden State gun grabbers, the program has been an abject failure—and its problems are only getting worse.
The news outlet CalMatters published this week a lengthy article highlighting the program’s worst failings, and they sum it up like this: “…what seemed at the time like a straight-forward approach to the enforcement of existing gun laws has instead become mired in chronic shortcomings, failing for years to make good on its potential.”
The full piece is worth a read, but CalMatters revealed (sometimes unintentionally, it seems) how the APPS system is used to harass gun owners and violate their privacy rights.
Since government agencies maintain the APPS list, CalMatters was able to obtain personal information of some of the current and former gun owners included in the database. But as CalMatters admits, not everyone on the list is supposed to be there.
Some people who appear in the APPS database have already surrendered their firearms. Others are only there due to administrative errors.
“Even when the information is correct, some people might be on the list because of an apparent misunderstanding or paperwork issue, not because they’re trying to illegally keep their guns,” the outlet reports.
Law enforcement agents sometimes devote time and resources to confiscating firearms only to find that the database has given them faulty information.
“The work-intensive process and outmoded technology has led some in law enforcement to question the database’s reliability. They say they’ve discovered errors during field operations and that investigations based on the list are a waste of resources,” according to CalMatters.
And then there’s simple bureaucratic incompetence. Some officials estimate that there are 24,000 people in the APPS database who have not surrendered their firearms. But CalMatters reports (towards the bottom of the article) that even this number is mostly guesswork.
“As it stands now, the department can’t even determine the precise breadth of the backlog, including how many cases have remained unresolved for more than six months,” they say.
There are multiple causes for the backlog. CalMatters discovered that many local police departments do not even know about the database. They also note that judges often do not ensure that their gun confiscation orders are carried out, and agents at the California DOJ can’t keep up with the constant stream of new prohibited persons.
What many gun owners may not know is that just being on the list doesn’t give law enforcement the right to confiscate firearms. According to CalMatters, agents must acquire probable cause that a person still possesses a gun in order to obtain a search warrant. If an individual simply denies owning a firearm, the investigation may end right there.
One agency told CalMatters that they gave up on confiscating firearms after one night of work, calling it “a waste of resources that could be directed toward more pressing violent crime problems.” Some people provided proof that their guns had been sold long ago, while others claimed they had gotten rid of them but could provide no evidence.
“There was just no way to verify,” one agent said, adding that the state “has no idea who has guns and who’s turned them in.”
The program’s sorry track record has made it difficult for anti-gun advocates to justify its continued existence. According to CalMatters, “Gun control advocates struggled to identify shootings that might have been prevented had authorities successfully retrieved firearms,” and the outlet did not report on any specific instances.
One spokesperson for the anti-gun group Giffords may have unintentionally summed up how most law-abiding gun owners feel about gun control efforts.
“It’s very frustrating to see that we have such a hard time implementing firearms removals in situations where we have all the information in front of us,” she said. “It doesn’t give the public a lot of confidence in our ability to tackle a lot of these more complex firearm issues.”