(MintPress) – Police in California are rounding up firearms from 20,000 gun owners who have illegal guns in their possession, a new policy that could set a model for a broader nationwide search for more than 200,000 illegal weapons. Authorities are targeting individuals with recent felony convictions or a history of mental health issues that would render them unfit to own firearms under current California state laws.
The police gun seizures were made possible by a statewide database recording the names and addresses of gun owners. This information has been used to cross-check the names of gun owners with hospitals, mental health clinics and prisons. California is currently the only state that tracks and actively disarms people with legally registered guns who have lost the right to own them.
“Very, very few states have an archive of firearm owners like we have,” said Garen Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program. Wintemute helped police spearhead the search for illegal firearms across the state of 38 million residents.
The policy appears to be working, as authorities continue to collect weapons from individuals who pose a known threat to public safety. Earlier this month, nine California Justice Department agents assembled outside a house in a suburb east of Los Angeles looking for a gun owner who had recently spent two days in a mental hospital.
After a 45-minute search, the agents left the home peacefully with three firearms in tow, according to a Bloomberg news report.
Working under the direction California Attorney General Kamala Harris, police boast roughly 2,000 weapons seized last year alone, as well as 117,000 rounds of ammunition and 11,000 high-capacity magazines.
The California laws, while effective, are a modest effort compared to the number of illegal firearms already in circulation across California. Despite having some of the strictest firearms regulations in the United States, California was already awash with illegal firearms before the latest police effort.
According to EdSource, an education policy group, more than 9 million illegal firearms have been sold in California through black markets or unscrupulous store owners since 1991.
In 2011, approximately 601,000 firearms were sold illegally according to the same study, creating a situation that has overwhelmed local and state law enforcement.
The proliferation of firearms, both legal and illegal, has exacerbated the epidemic of violence across the U.S. in recent years. According to a report published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there were 11,078 homicides using a firearm in 2010, by far the largest number of any country on earth.
Despite an urgent need for a solution to gun violence, modest attempts to restrict citizens’ access to high capacity magazines and assault rifles have been rebuffed by pro-gun advocates, worried that stricter gun laws could be a harbinger of larger nationwide firearm roundups that many believe is in violation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Last month, roughly 10,000 New Yorkers demonstrated in Albany, demanding Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeal the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (NY SAFE ACT). Passed in January, the NY SAFE Act bans the sale of high capacity magazines and assault rifles in New York state.
“If we don’t have the second amendment right, we won’t be able to protect all the other rights, including freedom of speech and the freedom of the press,” said David Montany of the Paris Hill Gun Club at the demonstration. “So without the Second Amendment, all the other rights are basically useless.”