Gun with red circle and slash through it on black background with text.


Illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters; iStock

California is struggling to recover illegally owned firearms, despite some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. For more than a decade, the state has tried to recover guns from people who possess a registered firearm even though they have lost their Second Amendment rights because of a criminal conviction, mental health issue or other court order.

The backlog in the state’s so-called Armed and Prohibited Persons System has only grown. At the start of this year, 24,000 individuals were identified in the database — more than double the number in 2008, according to the California attorney general’s office.

This series examines why that system has fallen short of its promise after years of bipartisan support. The stories are based on legislative archives, hundreds of public records requests, court filings and dozens of interviews. CalMatters found that local police departments – many frustrated at flaws in the database – are leaving enforcement up to a chronically understaffed unit of state agents.

The reporting also digs into the state courts and their failure to enforce their own orders, particularly in domestic violence cases. Judges often don’t ensure abusers surrender their weapons, leaving survivors living in fear – or worse.

“Outgunned” comes at a time when firearm ownership is at record levels and gun-related violence is rising after years of historic lows. Meanwhile, the state is awash in untraceable ghost guns and illegally-trafficked firearms. At the heart of the series is a question: If California can’t get this right, can anyone else?

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