Michael B. Marois and James Nash
March 25, 2013
On the evening of March 5, nine agents from the California Department of Justice, wearing bulletproof vests and carrying Glock pistols, assembled outside a ranch-style house in a Los Angeles suburb. They were preparing to confiscate weapons from a gun owner who’d recently lost the right to possess firearms after spending two days in a psychiatric hospital. They knocked on the door and asked to come in. These touchy encounters sometimes end in anger and, occasionally, handcuffs. This time, the agents came out peacefully with three guns. Then it was on to the next stop on the list for that night.
California is the only state that takes legally obtained weapons away from citizens who are no longer supposed to have them. There are almost 20,000 such gun owners, state records show, including convicted felons, people under domestic violence restraining orders, or those deemed mentally unstable. “What do we do about the guns that are already in the hands of persons who, by law, are considered too dangerous to possess them?” California Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote to Vice President Biden after the shootings in Newtown, Conn. She recommended that Biden, heading a White House review of gun policy, look to California as a model.
Nationwide, as many as 200,000 people have lost their gun rights but keep their weapons, says Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis. Many states lack the ability to confiscate firearms because they don’t track purchases as closely as California, which requires most sales to go through a licensed dealer and be reported. “Very, very few states have an archive of firearm owners like we have,” says Wintemute, who helped set up the program.