Wearing bulletproof vests and carrying 40-caliber Glock pistols, nine California Justice Department 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 away peacefully with three firearms.
California is the only state that tracks and disarms people with legally registered guns who have lost the right to own them, according to Attorney General Kamala Harris. Almost 20,000 gun owners in the state are prohibited from possessing firearms, including convicted felons, those under 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, are considered too dangerous to possess them?” Harris said in a letter to Vice President Joe 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.
As many as 200,000 people nationwide may no longer be qualified to own firearms, according to Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. Other states may lack confiscation programs because they don’t track purchases as closely as California, which requires most weapons sales go through a licensed dealer and be reported.
“Very, very few states have an archive of firearm owners like we have,” said Wintemute, who helped set up the program.
Harris, a 48-year-old Democrat, has asked California lawmakers to increase the number of agents from the current 33. They seized about 2,000 weapons last year. Agents also took 117,000 rounds of ammunition and 11,000 high-capacity magazines, according to state data.
“We’re not contacting anybody who can legally own a gun,” said John Marsh, a supervising agent who coordinates the sometimes-contentious seizures. “I got called the Antichrist the other day. Every conspiracy theory you’ve heard of…