Bringing together district attorneys and law enforcement officials from throughout the state, Attorney General Kamala Harris convened a working group Friday to develop a strategy on how to better enforce gun laws, particularly for those prohibited from owning a firearm.
"We need to eliminate and reduce gun violence in California," Harris said during a news conference at the Los Angeles Police Department administration building. "We came together to talk about best practices and what we can do to bring our resources together."
Harris said she is particularly concerned with enforcement of the state's Armed Prohibitive Persons System, a list of people with criminal records, mental illness or court orders banning them from owning a gun.
California has a backlog of 20,000 people who might be prohibited from owning firearms and whose names have to be checked on that list. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said his department receives a monthly list of 3,000 people who are checked out as quickly as possible by either his 20-officer gun unit or officers assigned in divisions to check on the parole status of individuals.
The APPS program, enacted in 2007, is unique to California, Harris said, adding she hopes it becomes a model for other states and the nation as they look to reduce and prevent gun violence.
"This is not about ideology or politics," Harris said. "It is a false choice to suggest you are either in support of the Second Amendment or in favor of reasonable gun safety rules. We can do both."
Harris said her department has seized more than 10,000 firearms under the law and recently received an additional $24 million to expand its efforts.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the laws are important to protect residents.
"Our focus is to harness the collective wisdom of DAs throughout the state and develop a common-sense approach to enforcing the laws already on the books," Lacey said.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos said the meeting was valuable.
"There were DAs from all over the state trying to learn from each other and come up with ways to get illegal guns off the street and out of the hands of those individuals that shouldn't have them," Ramos said.
"We also need to focus on those with mental health problems that shouldn't have firearms in their possession. We want to be proactive so we (Californians) don't have a Sandy Hook elementary school incident in our own backyard."
Beck said the Sandy Hook incident prompted him to change the direction of his gun unit.
"I called them in and told them we need to focus more on the mentally ill," Beck said. "This is not about making arrests, it is about making sure they don't hurt themselves, their families or others. We are trying to get them help."
Harris said a number of subgroups were created among the prosecutors to develop information that can be given out on a statewide basis looking at the best practices that are in use and procedures needed on everything from enforcement by going to the homes of those on the APPS list or the mentally ill to making the best use of gun buyback programs.
Los Angeles has held a number of gun buybacks, which generally have been sponsored by private donations.
Beck said he will be offering information the LAPD has developed on how to promote the events, staffing that is needed and other variables involved in the program.
Ramos said San Bernardino is planning a gun buyback awareness campaign.
"When it comes to people wanting to rid their homes of firearms they just don't know how to do it legally or where to go," Ramos said.
Harris said another part of the task force's mission is to develop a way for the public to learn about existing gun laws and what they have to do if they want to turn in a weapon.
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