(CALMATTERS) – When a man legally barred from owning a gun due to a domestic violence restraining order shot and killed his three daughters, a chaperone and himself at a Sacramento church in late February, it underscored the central takeaway of a stunning investigation from CalMatters’ Robert Lewis: California often struggles to recover illegally owned firearms, despite having some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. That finding was reinforced Wednesday, when Attorney General Rob Bonta released a report on a state database that tracks people who possess registered guns despite being banned from owning them due to a criminal conviction, mental health issue or other court order.
Robert identified some key takeaways:
- California is adding people to the system faster than agents are able to get people out by removing guns. At the start of 2022, California had a record 24,509 prohibited people in the database — up from 23,598 at the same time last year. Of those, 21% were blocked from owning a gun due to a restraining order.
- Meanwhile, the number of known firearm owners in California continues to rise: The state had about 3.2 million at the start of this year, compared to 3 million at the start of 2021 and less than 2 million at the start of 2016.
- The Department of Justice is struggling to hire and retain agents who confiscate the guns. A whopping 23 of 76 authorized positions were vacant at the start of this year, compared to 25 out of 75 last year.
- Finally, the database has a big caveat: It doesn’t track unregistered guns. Yet “ghost” guns — firearms that don’t have serial numbers and can’t be traced — are rapidly proliferating in California. San Jose Police Chief Anthony Mata on Tuesday announced plans to offer cash rewards for information leading to the seizure of ghost guns.
In other Wednesday gun news: A key legislative committee rejected a bill that would require parents to tell school districts if they keep guns at home — but its author, Democratic state Sen. Anthony Portantino of Glendale, can bring it back later for another vote.