Republicans critical of slow collection of guns from criminals

Republicans critical of slow collection of guns from criminals
Front loaders scoop up some of thousands of confiscated firearms destroyed each year. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

State Senate Republicans on Tuesday asked for an oversight hearing to look into the slow progress being made by Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris in reducing a backlog of gun owners who are not allowed to possess firearms because of crimes or mental illness.

The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $24 million in mid-2013 to reduce the backlog of people on the Armed and Prohibited Persons System. The system began 2014 with 21,000 people and reduced the backlog during the year by about 17%, according to a new report by the Department of Justice.

Republican Senators voiced concern that there are still 17,479 prohibited individuals with more than 36,000 firearms despite the state Department of Justice having spent 40% of the funds appropriated to eliminate the entire backlog.

"Unfortunately, the report reflects the failure of the attorney general and Department of Justice to address the … backlog," said the letter signed by 12 Republican senators.

Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for Harris, said removing guns from criminals "has been a top priority" of the agency, which quickly obtained funding for the effort. "This funding has allowed agents to reduce the backlog for the first time in the program's history and doubled the average number of guns seized per year," Ford said.

The letter from Republicans may provide fodder for Democrat Harris' political opponents coming after she recently announced her campaign for the United States Senate.

An aide to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) said that an oversight hearing had already been scheduled on the issue for April before the Republican letter arrived, adding "This has been an issue of concern for several years."

Twitter: @McGreevy99