Gun control laws don’t work.
Yet politicians eager to curb Americans’ Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” keep pushing for tighter laws to grab more guns.
A good example is California’s Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS), defined by California Attorney General (AG) Rob Bonta’s website as “a database populated with data from a number of existing [Department of Justice] databases.”
How’s that for a bureaucratic phrase?
The APPS data “identify criminals who are prohibited from possessing firearms subsequent to the legal acquisition of firearms or registration of assault weapons.” In English, they’re felons or others who previously had purchased guns, but were banned from owning them. Yet, they continued to hold the guns or are suspected of having them.
“The APPS program”—weirdly defined by the AG as a system and a program—“is a highly sophisticated investigative tool that provides law enforcement agencies with information about gun owners who are legally prohibited from possessing firearms.”
APPS was actually started by Republicans with Senate Bill 950 in 2001, by state Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte, who later became party chairman. It passed unanimously in both houses and was signed by then-governor Gray Davis.
Trying to get ahead of the curve on crime issues, Republicans periodically decry the backlog of APPS cases, a safe way to seem tough on crime while not directly offending their pro-gun constituency. One example was a 2018 letter by the state Senate Republican Caucus to then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra—now a U.S. senator—blasting him for allowing 10,226 delinquent cases.
SB 950’s Senate floor analysis from 2001 actually explained it in clear language: “This bill will provide a way for law enforcement to find out which proven felons are still possessing weapons.”
And the analysis provided the reason for the law as well.
“The Attorney General [Bill Lockyer, the powerful former Senate majority leader] is sponsoring the bill in the wake of the mass slaying in February 2000 at Navistar’s International Truck and Engine Plant in Melrose Place, Illinois. In that case, the murderer was a twice-convicted felon who had previously, before his convictions, purchased firearms. Thus, even though he was prohibited and in possession of firearms, there was no way for law enforcement to find out, and he was left to commit murder.
“The bill was brought to the [attorney general] at the urging of law enforcement agencies in the state, and it will provide them with a tool that will disarm these proven law-breakers before they can break the law again. If the state is going to find that some people are too dangerous to possess a gun, then we should make it as easy as possible for law enforcement to ensure that these laws are enforced.”
“But what seemed at the time like a straight-forward approach to the enforcement of existing gun laws has instead become mired in chronic shortcomings, failing for years to make good on its potential. Successive administrations have vowed to fix the problems, but all have fallen short,” CalMatters reported on July 27.
“Today, the state is struggling to recover thousands of guns from people who have been ordered to surrender them. At the start of the year, the list compiled by the state Department of Justice (DOJ) had swelled to 24,000 individuals, the most ever. The pandemic only worsened the mounting backlog of cases when some state Justice Department agents were pulled from field enforcement.”
That assumes there actually was any “potential” regarding the system.
For perspective, I turned to John Lott, the nation’s top gun expert. I reviewed his book “More Guns, Less Crime” when it was released two decades ago. He recently was a senior adviser for research and statistics at the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice. He now heads the Crime Prevention Research Center.
“The notion that you will stop criminals from getting guns simply because you stop them from having legally acquired guns seems as likely to succeed as preventing criminals from buying illegal drugs, which obviously has worked flawlessly,” Lott said, with a touch of irony. “The major source of illegal guns is drug dealers, who have to have weapons to protect their very valuable property.”
The Brady Background Check System was enacted by Congress in 1993. That’s what you go through when you buy a gun, and it’s used with APPS.
“There is no real evidence that the Brady system has reduced violent crime [even gun control people agree, but they now claim that’s because it didn’t go far enough]. I would argue that there is no evidence that background checks on the private transfer of guns have reduced violent crime or mass public shootings,” Lott said.
He pointed to his research on those issues in Chapter 10 of the 3rd edition of “More Guns, Less Crime,” which came out in 2010.
Does Not Compute
Then there’s the problem of flagging innocent people. A lot of Americans hold the same names. As noted above, the California DOJ claims that its APPS database “is a highly sophisticated investigative tool.” If that’s really the case, then it’s the only efficient computer system run by the state government.
Despite being the home of Silicon Valley, the Golden State’s government is known for its pyrite data systems. The most notorious is the system of the Employment Development Department (EDD), which collapsed under the load of millions of newly furloughed workers when COVID-19 hit. A December 2020 report by the California Auditor excoriated its computer system.
“Nearly half of the claims EDD processed in the first six months of the claim surge required additional intervention to complete filing after claimants submitted them online,” the report reads.
Let’s not forget the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a byword for bureaucratic incompetence.
Government Technology magazine reported in February: “Personal information for possibly millions of California drivers may have been accessible to hackers this month after a company contracting with the California DMV suffered a security breach earlier this month.”
Getting back to guns, Lott said that the APPS has followed a similar trend of technological failure.
“The background check system that we have is a mess, with about 99 percent of the 3.8 million who have been stopped being mistakes. It is one thing to stop a felon from buying a gun, but it is something else to stop a law-abiding person simply because they have a name similar to a felon,” he said.
With racial tensions rising since the killing of George Floyd more than a year ago, the last thing we need to do is make that worse over guns. But that’s what’s happening.
“The error rate is very high among minorities because people tend to have names similar to others in their racial groups,” Lott said. “When I was recently working at the [U.S. Department of Justice], the error rate for black males was three times their share of the population and for Hispanic males was 2.5 times their share of the population.”
That is to say, minorities’ Second Amendment rights were violated at a much higher rate than were those of whites.
Lack of Data
The CalMatters article summarized numerous problems with the APPS being unable to go after a lot of people who aren’t supposed to have guns, but still have them.
“Experts on the system—who note that thousands of guns have, in fact, been removed from individuals—say stakeholders throughout government must summon the resolve to finally fix the system’s deepening problems,” the article reads.
“Although the state does not track how many individuals, if any, commit crimes while they continue to remain armed, the agency has good reason to be concerned.”
But if there’s no data, there’s just smoke. The state has no idea what’s going on.
“At the time of its adoption, the Armed and Prohibited Persons System was seen as the low-hanging fruit of gun-control measures—taking firearms from known owners who legally shouldn’t have them,” the article states.
“But today, the inability of state and local agencies to make it work as envisioned has raised questions about how they can begin to confront the wider menace posed by the thousands of illegal firearms circulating throughout California or the new wave of untraceable ‘ghost guns,’ assembled at home from mail-order kits.’”
Ah, yes, the bogeyman of ghost guns, which President Joe Biden also demanded be regulated in his Feb. 14 speech attacking the Second Amendment. They’re made by using 3D printers, which means the only way to stop them is by banning or regulating those printers. The designs can be downloaded from internet sites located around the world.
It reminds me how, in the Soviet Union, Xerox copiers were numbered and regulated to prevent “samizdat”—self-published underground publications—from being circulated. That’s what tyrannies do.
The fact is, unless you live in a city such as Chicago or Baltimore that’s run by Democrats defunding the police, your chances of being murdered are quite low, by guns or other means. It’s a gigantic country of 330 million people. So bad things will happen, including massacres that lead the news cycle.
The Armed and Prohibited Persons System was a mistake enacted 20 years ago that shouldn’t be fixed, but ended. Of course, if police in the course of their work come across someone who shouldn’t own a gun, then they should enforce the law. But a special program sending officers to people’s homes—often the wrong homes—in search of alleged violators went too far.
We need to get back to the American reflex to always bend our laws toward freedom.
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He’s a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary to California State Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.