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Lawmakers Should Avoid Rush to Ramp Up Gun Confiscations

California's gun registration program is a mess.

An Associated Press report last week sounded rather shocking. State authorities conducted a raid in Los Angeles, where they "seized more than two dozen guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition" from a man who had reportedly been barred from owning firearms. Predictably, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) bemoaned a lack of funding and a long backlog in the state's ability to collect such weapons.

"The thousands of weapons we've confiscated over the years essentially represent the low-hanging fruit," Becerra said. Expect a push for more power and resources for the state Department of Justice, even though its gun-confiscation system may be fraught with error. Gun-rights groups say 35 percent to 60 percent of the people on the Armed Prohibited Persons System shouldn't be on the list.

The latest news says much about the perils of gun registration (or our system that is not called registration, but is awfully close to it), about the failure of agencies to maintain updated lists and protect our liberties, and about the counterproductive approach from the people we most expect to protect our gun rights. On the last point, I'm referring to California Republicans.

We are the only state with such a system. Dating back to 2007, APPS cross tabs lists of firearms owners with lists of people whose criminal convictions or mental illness ban them from owning them. If, say, you bought a shotgun for home protection and your wife files a restraining order during a nasty divorce, the Department of Justice may send agents to confiscate that 12 gauge.

That may be a good thing, but before the department gets more resources it ought to make sure the list it works from is as accurate as possible. The state auditor in 2013 looked at APPS and found that in some cases the department goes after people whose names shouldn't be on the list. Typically, people don't know the process for reinstating their rights. The auditor found the agency was mistaken in three of the eight cases it reviewed.

This is typical of bureaucracy. And the response from politicians has been sadly typical, too. It's no surprise that Democrats are largely hostile to private gun ownership, as evidenced by the new gun restrictions they propose every year. For instance, Becerra, as a member of Congress, received an "F" from the National Rifle Association.

After the horrific murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the state called for an audit of APPS. In 2015, when Sen. Kamala Harris (D) was the state attorney general, some legislative Republicans sent a letter to state Senate Leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) after the first audit report was released. They blasted Harris for failing "to address the APPS backlog and meet the commitments they made to the legislature."

So the GOP should be happy that the new attorney general is trying to deal with the estimated 10,000 people who reportedly own guns that they no longer are allowed to own, right? This is called being "too clever by half," given that the GOP letter was able to embarrass a rising Democratic official who was running for Senate. What can they say now that the current attorney general is trying to live up to the demands in their letter?

There are myriad problems with APPS. For starters, it's unlikely that this approach does much to make our state a safer place. We're still a long way from the movie Minority Report, where "pre-crime" psychics can reliably predict who will commit mayhem. Law-enforcement already has an incentive to track down dangerous criminals. APPS, critics say, focuses resources instead on tracking down people who technically are in violation, but pose no real danger. This means heavily armed agents showing up at people's doorsteps to deal with what may be a paperwork miscue.

The bigger problem is that lawmakers from both parties have bolstered what I've called "the infrastructure for confiscation." Legislators routinely add to the list of crimes, even misdemeanors, that require the forfeiture of gun rights. Legislators frequently offer bills that would retroactively ban the ownership of new categories of weapons.

In a true registration system, the government registers a particular gun to a particular person. But the state maintains various lists of gun owners and often the specific guns they own, so APPS provides a potentially powerful tool that could help find owners after a weapon later is deemed illegal. We expect Democrats to be fans of such a system, but it's disconcerting that the main GOP objection in recent years is that the state hasn't been aggressive enough.

Everyone wants firearms kept out of the hands of the wrong people. But before California legislators use the latest news stories to ramp up funding for the state's controversial gun program, they ought to at least insist that the program really is achieving its stated goals and not wasting resources and violating people's basic rights.

This column was first published by the Orange County Register.

Photo Credit: Zhang Chaoqun Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What can they say now that the current attorney general is trying to live up to the demands in their letter?

    That's the problem with misdirection. Eventually you might end up standing in that spot. Luckily neither party has a capacity for shame.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    they ought to at least insist that the program really is achieving its stated goals and not wasting resources and violating people's basic rights.

    LOL.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "APPS cross tabs lists of firearms owners with lists of people whose criminal convictions or mental illness ban them from owning them. If, say, you bought a shotgun for home protection and your wife files a restraining order during a nasty divorce, the Department of Justice may send agents to confiscate that 12 gauge."

    Going forward, the accuracy of the lists probably won't be as big of a problem as the things that will put someone on those lists.

    Listening to what people are saying in the aftermath of this latest shooting, they don't understand why posts on Facebook, YouTube, and other forms of social media didn't disqualify this guy from buying or owning a gun!

    If the list of people who are ineligible to buy or own a gun includes everyone who's taken anti-anxiety medication, everyone who's posted on certain websites, everyone who professes certain beliefs, everyone who says certain things on social media, et. al., then the accuracy of that list isn't my biggest concern.

    Those sorts of things shouldn't be any kind of disqualification for owning a gun.

    To my mind, the only thing that should disqualify someone from owning a gun is being convicted of using a gun to commit a crime and, hence, violate someone's rights or being mentally incapable of making choices for yourself to the point that you were committed to a mental institution by a court for being a threat to other people's rights.

  • Ken Shultz||

    As an aside, it's time for every libertarian to learn about VPN, Tor browsers, how to encrypt your email, which encrypted email companies to use, DuckDuck Go, what cryptocurrencies like Monero are all about, etc.

    What you say, read, write, or buy on the internet may very well be used against you, someday, in a court of law, and everybody who cares about their Fourth Amendment rights should learn what they can do to protect their own privacy--rather than depend on government.

    I'm just sayin'.

  • ||

    Kinda assumes a world where your guns and currency can be seized because of tweet is a world worth living and having currency in doesn't it?

    I'm just sayin'.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Protecting your own rights isn't necessarily a terrible thing. To assume that the government will protect your rights, historically, has made an ass of you and me.

    If there are things you can do to protect yourself because you care, you should know about them.

    It's like owning a gun. Buying a gun to protect yourself from criminals isn't just something you do once society breaks down and the police are after you rather than out to protect your rights. You might want to protect yourself from criminals even when the police are properly motivated.

    Likewise, protecting your own privacy is something you might want to do even if the government isn't leveraging Google, Microsoft, Facebook to invade it yet. In fact, if people are insisting that using those company's products in certain ways should disqualify you from exercising your constitutional rights, you might want to learn to do without their products entirely--in addition to learning how to protect your own privacy.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Imagine people being deprived of tgheir rights for posting in support of #BlackLivesMatter.

  • SQRLSY One||

    If you want to see something at the intersection of gun rights and the BLM movement, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/BLAM/ ...

    It's not all that long... It is worth a skim...

  • Tionico||

    I would expand this definition to include any physical violence that caused bodily harm to another, whether with a firearm or a knife, claw hammer, fists, poison, baseball bat, etc. Remember, more people are killed each year by perpetrators using bare feet/hands, claw hammers, clubs and bats, knives, than all firearms combined.

    Direct violence causing physica arm to another is a heart issue. The selection of the tool or means is not. If the heart for violence is plainly demonstrated, THEN and only then can the easiest tool to find and use be denied.

    Being adjudicated mentally defective AND a likely danger to others should also be a reason to debar the use fo arms, but in ALL cases the subjct of the proposed ban MUST be afforded his right to due process and to contest the disqualification. Taking someone's guns because a nasty spouse suing for divorce wants to punish is NOT acceptible. Most divorce lawyers particulalruy in CA simply include the boilerplate restraining order in the stack of other papers to be mindlessly signed by the divorcing party. Plausible cause must be demonstrated with respondent able to present his evidence, cross examine the petitioner, and remain presumed innocent until the court finds otherwise on the preponderance of the evidence.

  • ||

    Everyone wants firearms kept out of the hands of the wrong people.

    The problem isn't and never really has been guns in the hands of the wrong people. It's nearly always the disproportionate favor that allows the wrong person to shoot first. Even if you don't believe it to be true for guns, you could imagine how any one of the truck-driving incidents would've turned out completely differently if the driver had laid on his horn before hopping the curb.

  • Ken Shultz||

    From a purely legal standpoint, depriving people of their Second Amendment rights without either a trial by jury or, at least, waiving their right to a trial by jury is a fundamental violation of due process as far as I'm concerned.

    "No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law".

    ---Fifth Amendmennt

    "Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law".

    ----Fourteenth Amendment

    If the Democrats want to repeal the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, there's a way to do that. If they can't get the support to do that, then the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments are the highest law of the land--even in California.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    But due process makes it harder to disarm the bad guys, or execute the bad guys, or keep the bad guys from voting.

    Is this price worth it?

  • Tionico||

    bad guys are not bad guys until ALL the evidence is examined by a court of competent jurisdiction. Too often the one denied his rights never has a word to present in his defense. Warrants are sworn out on the flimsiest of "evidence". Remember the sham of "probable cause" put before that FISA court in the petitioin for a warrant to spy on one individual? I refer to the Steele dossier presentd to the FISA court, with all the evidence to exonerate or call into question the need for and legality of the warrant excluded. The court were never told that one guy wrote the document under contract, who contracted for the document, and then cited an "independent" news story that was written by the same guy who did the Steele document...... in other words the "news reporting" was a fabrication by the same guy who fabricated the entire report.... not two sources, but one.

    SO, rights of the accused certainly ARE under attack.

  • Verbum Vincet||

    We're seeing this attack differently, because cell phone cameras have taken us inside a school massacre. We hear the gunshots and see the bodies. This is new and disturbing!

    A victim's mom screams: "President Trump, please do something, anything!" Obama likewise called for "common sense" gun rules. A teen survivor said "lawmakers need to look in the mirror!" A "counterrorism analyst" broke down on air, pleading "I can't do it, Wolf!"

    The FBI was warned about this alleged shooter. He was a known member of a white-supremacist group." (De Jesus Cruz? Really?)

  • Verbum Vincet||

    While Trump focused on "mental illness" in his first tweets, he then said "Florida students should have done more to prevent the shooting." Trump did promise to "ease the pain," though offered few specifics. People are sick of "thoughts and prayers, and demand action after the Florida shooting!"

    It's certain that we'll never have the desire, nor the need, to use the 2nd Amendment for overthrowing a tyrannical government. We're getting along fine without the 4th and 5th Amendments, and the 2nd Amendment's antiquated and irrelevant. Besides, don't shooting victims have the right to not be shot? Our government now has all the surveillance tools it could ever need. They can ensure our safety and the children, 100% of the time!

    -CNN, HuffPo, et al. That last one, made-up, but the first part is mostly true. It's only a matter of time now!

    I sympathize greatly with the murder victims, survivors and parents in Florida. That still doesn't give you the right to take away others' rights to self-defense or gun ownership! The piecemeal, backdoor rape of the 2nd Amendment continues apace...eventually, most gun owners will be labelled "mentally ill" or "white nationalist militiapersons."

  • Michael Ejercito||

    So black people in the inner cities would be labeled as white nationalists?

  • Longtobefree||

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    Deal with it.

  • DrZ||

    Sure California gun laws will have no effect on the illegal use of guns, but it is great for leftist virtue signalling and higher taxes. All leftist know that higher taxes are good and higher taxes to support harassing law abiding citizens provides future virtue signalling: "I proudly pay more taxes to harass law-abiding gun owners (while I turn my head from gang-related violence in Oakland, Los Angeles and other gang infested areas).

    Virtue signalling, the coin of the realm for the left.

  • ranrod||

    This Is the Number of Innocent People Murdered by Governments. Are You Anti-State Yet?
    Let's start with a number: 262 million. That's the number of unarmed people the late Prof. R. J. Rummel estimated governments murdered in mass killings he termed "democide" during the 20th century. "This democide murdered 6 times more people than died in combat in all the foreign and internal wars of the century," he wrote.
    http://reason.com/archives/201.....-and-proud

  • mferguson||

    Get the kids off "anti-psychotic, anti-depressant" drugs which have been the common denominator of every mass shooting for decades, yet the media looks the other way, to guns... most likely to shield their Big Pharma advertising buddies.
    https://goo.gl/c5hkX3

  • Gene Ralno||

    Just an idea. Use one guy to stake out an illegal owner. Send a letter advising that officers are coming for the guns. When the illegal owner hides them, make a note of where. Then call an officer and simply collect them. If the illegal owner doesn't hide them, they're probably in his attic.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Come to think of it, it might not be a bad thing for the People's State to secede before it needs to be amputated. Then Puerto Rico could become a state, build reactors, have energy, and there'd not even be any need to change the flag.

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