There isn't much common ground in the gun debate, though all sides supposedly agree that felons and the mentally ill shouldn't be armed.

No state takes that responsibility more seriously than California, where a Justice Department unit is dedicated to disarming people who aren't legally entitled to possess firearms.

How does that work?

The state cross-references lists of people barred from gun ownership with records from pre-purchase background checks. Anyone who legally purchased a firearm before being convicted of a felony, subjected to a restraining order or ruled to be mentally unfit is liable to get a visit from Justice Department special agents.

A squad of 33 agents seized about 4,000 guns over the past two years. But there's a backlog of about 40,000 guns in the hands of about 20,000 people, and the list grows by 15 or 20 names every day.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation providing $24 million in new funding for the program. The money will pay for 36 more agents to pursue the department's goal of eliminating the backlog within three years.

It's the first gun-control measure approved by California legislators since the Newtown massacre. To their credit, lawmakers weren't deterred by opposition from the National Rifle Association, which claims to favor enforcement of existing gun laws — such as no firearms for felons — but still found a premise to oppose the bill.

The NRA's complaint? Funding for the enforcement program comes from the fees paid for background checks by people seeking to purchase weapons. Gun groups also objected to the use of firearm sales records to identify people who aren't entitled to own guns.

In reality, gun manufacturers — the interest that drives the NRA — are going to fight any and all gun-safety legislation, even those measures that will take firearms away from violent criminals and dangerously unstable individuals.

They failed in Sacramento, but they prevailed in Washington. So far anyway.

In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania say they aren't giving up on universal background checks. In the House, Democrat Mike Thompson of St. Helena and Republican Peter King of New York have signed up 100 cosponsors for their version of the background-check bill.

Thompson, Toomey and Manchin are gun owners. They support private ownership of firearms. But they understand the necessity for reasonable regulations and, to their credit, they're willing to fight the NRA and its allies.

Some senators have gotten grief from their constituents for voting against the background check legislation. But Thompson and the other lawmakers understand the long odds of getting a bill through Congress over the objections of the NRA, an organization that once endorsed background checks as a means of ensuring that only law-abiding citizens obtained firearms.

Even if they succeed, and we hope they do, the bills in Congress would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using background check records for a California-style program targeting people who purchased firearms legally but later lost the right to own them. Let us suggest a new motto for the NRA: Sticking up for criminals.