The California Senate Thursday approved sending the state Department of Justice $24 million to beef up a program designed to get guns out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from having them.
"This is a serious and immediate threat to our public safety," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, one of several authors of the legislation appropriating the funds.
Senate Bill 140 is part of a sweeping package of gun control proposals California Democrats introduced in the wake of December's mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. It won broad bipartisan support despite opposition from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun interests, passing the Senate on a 31-0 vote. It now goes to the Assembly.
The bill calls for using the additional money, transferred from an account generated by firearms sale and transfer fees, to bolster enforcement efforts associated with the state's Armed Prohibited Persons System, a database that helps officials identify individuals who can no longer posses guns because of criminal convictions, restraining orders or mental illness.
The state Department of Justice says there are about 19,000 people on that list who collectively have as many as 34,000 handguns and 1,600 assault weapons.
The office of Attorney General Kamala Harris said the midyear appropriation will allow the department to hire 36 additional agents, doubling the size of the Armed Prohibited Persons System force.
"Taking guns away from dangerous, violent individuals who are prohibited by law from owning them is smart and efficient law enforcement," Harris said in a statement.
Several members on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about the Department of Justice's implementation and management of the program during a lengthy floor debate Thursday morning.
"This bill is the right thing to do, but maybe we need to take the power and the authority away from the Department of Justice for their misadministration of this," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who abstained from voting on the bill.
Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, said more should be done to make sure individuals on the list know they are supposed to give up their firearms before the state sends a "ninja squad" to confiscate the weapons.
Some Republicans, citing concerns about mismanagement and the possibility of future fee increases, called for an audit into the Dealers Record of Sale Special Account and other special funds.
Call Torey Van Oot, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5544.