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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced the Governor signed a bill he sponsored to assist law enforcement agencies in returning firearms seized by officers.
"This legislation will protect public safety and prevent gun violence by keeping guns out of the hands of individuals who are prohibited by law from possessing them," Lockyer said. "The bill will require law enforcement agencies to take appropriate steps to determine the legal status of an individual before returning a firearm that has been seized or held as evidence by the law enforcement agency."
AB 2431 by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, provides a streamlined process for ensuring seized firearms are returned to owners who are legally able to possess them, and provides law enforcement agencies with policies on destroying unwanted or unclaimed weapons.
The bill codifies the California Department of Justice's (DOJ) recommended practices, which have been adopted by most of the state's law enforcement agencies. Although current law allows law enforcement agencies to return a gun without first determining whether the individual is prohibited from possessing a firearm, the DOJ has encouraged agencies to conduct background checks on the owners and enter information about the firearms into the Automated Firearms System before returning the guns. The DOJ also encourages local agencies to establish procedures for disposing of firearms when the owner is prohibited from having the weapon returned.
Currently, the DOJ conducts about 500 background checks a month on behalf of 300 law enforcement officers seeking information before returning seized firearms to their owners. Of those background checks, the DOJ found that about 14% of the individuals seeking the return of their guns from law enforcement agencies are prohibited from owning a firearm because they are a convicted felon, have been convicted of spousal abuse, are the subject of a domestic violence restraining order, or have been deemed to have a mental condition that poses a danger to themselves or others.
In contrast, about 1% of the background checks conducted on individuals seeking to purchase weapons from licensed gun dealers show the individual is prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm.
The bill prohibits law enforcement agencies from returning firearms unless the individual has passed a firearms eligibility background check. Agencies also will be required to establish a procedure for disposing of firearms when the person from whom they are seized is prohibited from possessing them, or if the person chooses to not have the firearm returned.
Under AB 2431:
Individuals seeking the return of their firearm will be required to obtain a firearms eligibility check from the DOJ before retrieving a firearm taken into custody by a law enforcement agency.
The individual will submit a request form to the DOJ that lists the serial number, model and make of each handguns the individual seeks to have returned. The individual will be charged $20 to submit the form, plus an additional $3 for each handgun to cover the costs of the background check.
The DOJ will have 30 days from receipt of the background check request to conduct the check. The DOJ will query the appropriate federal and state databases, including California's mental health, restraining order and criminal history databases.
The DOJ will enter all handgun record information into the California Automated Firearms System.
The DOJ will send a letter to the owner informing them of whether they are eligible to possess a weapon.
The individual will be required to present that letter to the law enforcement agency to either retrieve the firearm, or, if prohibited from or no longer interested in possessing the firearm, to request that the firearm be sold on consignment through a licensed gun dealer.
In addition, law enforcement agencies and courts will be authorized to charge a fee for storing and transferring the firearms and to destroy firearms that are not claimed within six months after they seizure.
If the firearm was reported stolen, the law enforcement agency will be required to inform the person who reported the theft that the agency has the firearm in custody. The owner will be able to claim the gun only after obtaining a background check from the DOJ. There will be no fee charged to reclaim a recovered firearm if the gun was reported stolen within five days of the theft.
In 2001, Lockyer sponsored legislation authored by then Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, that established the California Armed and Prohibited Program (CAPP) to identify individuals who legally purchased firearms but subsequently fell into a prohibited category and did not relinquish their firearms as required by law. Since CAPP began in July 2002, the Attorney General's Firearms Division has made more than 250 arrests and seized more than 3,600 firearms, including more than 1,000 assault weapons, from individuals prohibited by law from possessing firearms.
"This program has removed guns from spousal abusers, convicted felons and others deemed to pose a danger to society," Lockyer said. "This bill will ensure many of the guns never ever get into the hands of dangerous individuals to begin with."