California agents using rare system to hunt for illegal guns


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNN) – The nationwide debate over guns is still going strong. The question of how to keep guns out of the hands of people barred from having them is a complicated one. But it is a matter of priorities when it comes to the resources of stretched-thin law enforcement.

California is the only state with a law to take firearms from felons. CNN’S Stephanie Elam was there when one felon was busted with an illegal arsenal: more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, three semi-automatic weapons, a shotgun and a pistol.

“One of the weapons was fixed with a bump stock,” said Tony Ladell with the California Department of Justice. Bump stocks, like what the Las Vegas mass shooter used to mimic automatic firing, were banned in California in 1990.

Altogether it’s an arsenal 57-year-old Timothy Pope is not allowed to have. “I forgot they were even here really,” Pope said. He was previously convicted of possessing a destructive device, a felony.

Stephanie Elem: “Do you remember being notified that you couldn’t have guns anymore?”

Pope: “Uh, yeah. In the court.”

Stephanie Elem/reporting: “How do you feel right now?”

Pope: “Stupid.”

This bust coming at the end of the daily mission for these California Department of Justice agents who door-knock targeted homes in search of weapons in the wrong hands.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said, “Only in California do we have a law that permits us to seize these weapons.”

It’s the only system of its kind in the nation. The Armed Prohibited Persons System–or APPS–flags those who previously registered firearms but were later deemed unfit to own a gun after a felony conviction, violent misdemeanor, domestic violence restraining order or found to be mentally unstable.

Using the APPS data, agents visit Pope–who now likely faces a new set of felony charges, including the possession of so called “ghost guns,” homemade weapons free of serial numbers officials use to track guns.

Ladell said, “Can you imagine if these guns got in the wrong hands through a burglary?”

California’s Department of Justice has recovered 18,000 firearms since the program began. More than 10,000 people are on the list statewide.

As the country is again embroiled in the gun control debate, some point out that APPS would not have caught the mass shooters in San Bernardino and Isla Vista, California.

Stephanie Elem: “There are people out there that say with all of the shootings that we’ve seen across the country that none of this–that the apps program would not have stopped that. What do you say to that?”

California DOJ Special Agent Sam Richardson: “I say it’s impossible for us to measure the success of this operation because nobody knows if the guns that we seized would have been used in the next mass shooting.”

Another concern for Second Amendment advocates:  how well the database is kept up to date.

Craig Deluz, spokesman for the Firearms Policy Coalition said, “And the people that are prohibited are appropriately notified and given ample opportunity to get rid of the firearms and ammunition so that they’re not in further violation of the law.”

But after a night like this, these officers believe apps is a good place to start and that other states should follow California’s lead.

California has not been immune to mass shootings, even with the apps law in place.

The San Bernardino shooters, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, did not have any prior conviction

© 2024 KOBI-TV NBC5. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.

Skip to content