PD Editorial: Slow progress on gun-safety measures

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    Backbone Checks

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.

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