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California Seizes Guns as Owners Lose Right to Keep Arms

California Seizes Guns as Owners Lose Right to Keep Arms

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Bloomberg.comBusinessweek.comBloomberg TV
California Seizes Guns as Owners LoseRight to Keep Arms
Wearing bulletproof vests and carrying 40-caliber Glock pistols, nineCaliforniaJusticeDepartment agents assembled outside a ranch-style house in a suburb east of Los Angeles.They were looking for a gun owner who
d recently spent two days in a mental hospital.They knocked on the door and asked to come in. About 45 minutes later, they came awaypeacefully with three firearms.California is the only state that tracks and disarms people with legallyregisteredguns who havelost the right to own them, according to Attorney GeneralKamala Harris. Almost 20,000 gunowners in the state are prohibited from possessing firearms, including convicted felons, thoseunder a domestic violence restraining order or deemed mentally unstable.
What do we do about the guns that are already in the hands of persons who, by law, areconsidered too dangerous to possess them?
Harris said in a letter to Vice PresidentJoe Biden after a Connecticut school shooting in December left 26 dead. She recommended that Biden,heading a White House review of gun policy, consider California as a national model.
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1:51By Michael B. Marois & James Nash - 2013-03-12T19:06:26Z
California Department of Justice police agents walk towards a house near Ontario, California on Tuesday,March 5, 2013. The agents, working for the only state-level program to confiscate illegal firearms fromowners, targeted people who
d once legally purchased firearms and lost the right after being convicted of violent crimes, committed to mental institutions or hit with restraining orders.
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
 
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 As many as 200,000 people nationwide may no longer be qualified to own firearms, according toGaren Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at theUniversity of California, Davis. Other states may lack confiscation programs because they don
t trackpurchases as closely as California, which requires most weapons sales go through a licenseddealer and be reported.
Very, very few states have an archive of firearm owners like we have,
said Wintemute, whohelped set up the program.
Funding Increase
Harris, a 48-year-old Democrat, has asked California lawmakers to more than double thenumber of agents from the current 33. They seized about 2,000 weapons last year. Agents alsotook 117,000 rounds of ammunition and 11,000 high-capacity magazines, according to statedata.
We
re not contacting anybody who can legally own a gun,
said John Marsh, a supervisingagent who coordinates the sometimes-contentious seizures.
I got called the Antichrist the other day. Every conspiracy theory you
ve heard of, take that times 10.
The no-gunlistis compiled by cross-referencing files on almost 1 million handgun and assault-weapon owners with databases of new criminal records and involuntary mental-healthcommitments. About 15 to 20 names are added each day, according to the attorney general
soffice.
Probable Cause
Merely being in a database of registered gun owners and having a
disqualifying event,
such asa felony conviction or restraining order, isn
t sufficient evidence for a search warrant, Marsh saidMarch 5 during raids in San Bernardino County. So the agents often must talk their way into aresidence to look for weapons, he said. At a house in Fontana, agents were looking for a gun owner with a criminal history of a sexoffense, pimping, according to the attorney general
s office. Marsh said that while the womanappeared to be home, they got no answer at the door. Without a warrant, the agents couldn
tenter and had to leave empty- handed.They had better luck in nearby Upland, where they seized three guns from the home of LynettePhillips, 48, who
d been hospitalized for mental illness, and her husband, David. One gun wasregistered to her, two to him.
The prohibited person can
t have access to a firearm,
regardless of who the registered owner is, said Michelle Gregory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general
s office.
Involuntarily Held
In an interview as agents inventoried the guns, Lynette Phillips said that while she
d been heldinvoluntarily in a mental hospital in December, the nurse who admitted her had exaggerated themagnitude of her condition.Todd Smith, chief executive officer of Aurora Charter Oak Hospital in Covina, where documentsprovided by Phillips show she was treated, didn
t respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment on the circumstances of the treatment.Phillips said her husband used the guns for recreation. She didn
t blame the attorney general
sagents for taking the guns based on the information they had, she said.
I do feel I have every right to purchase a gun,
Phillips said.
I
m not a threat. We
re law-abidingcitizens.
No one was arrested. Most seized weapons are destroyed, Gregory said.
It
s not unusual to not arrest a mental-health person because every county in the state handles
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those particular cases differently,
Gregory said by e-mail.
Unless there
s an extenuating needto arrest them on the spot, we refer the case
to the local district attorney
s office, she said.
Convicted Felons
 Agents more often arrest convicted felons who are prohibited from buying, receiving, owning opossessing a firearm, Gregory said. Violation of the ban is itself a felony.The state Senate agreed March 7 to expand the seizure program using $24 million in surplusfunds from fees that gun dealers charge buyers for background checks. Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for theNational Rifle Association, a gun lobby based inFairfax,Virginia, that says it has more than 4 million individuals as members, didn
t respond to arequest for comment on the program.Sam Paredes, executive director of the Folsom-based advocacy group Gun Owners of California, praised the program, though not how it is funded.
We think that crime control instead of gun controlis absolutely the way to go,
he said.
Theissue we have is funding this program only from resources from law-abiding gun purchasers.This program has a benefit to the entire public and therefore the entire public should be payingthrough general- fund expenditures, and not just legal gun owners.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael B. Marois inSacramentoatmmarois@bloomberg.netJames Nash inLos Angelesat jnash24@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman atsmerelman@bloomberg.net 
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Special Agent Supervisor John Marshwho coordinates the operations aroundCalifornia, said:
We
re not contactinganybody who can legally own a gun.The only people we
re contacting arepeople who are prohibited from owningguns.
Photographer: Patrick T.Fallon/BloombergWeapons and ammunition seized fromhe home of Lynette and David Philllipsby agents with the CaliforniaDepartment of Justice police in Upland,California. Photographer: Patrick T.Fallon/BloombergLynette Phillips, 48, and her husband,

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