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How the system fights tide of illegal guns
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To be sure, California's laws that regulate who may possess firearms have many complexities. There are some clear-cut basics, however: anyone convicted of a felony in this state, country or any other country may not purchase or possess a firearm. Undocumented foreign nationals may not purchase or possess firearms.

Lawful ownership and use of firearms is not the issue here - more laws that affect law-abiding citizens are not needed; there exists more than enough of these laws to "regulate" people who have a right to own firearms. The shortcomings of firearms enforcement manifest in the fact that criminals fear enforcement only to the extent that their chances of getting caught are high; otherwise, as it is often said (and mocked by some) that "if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." Indeed, law-abiding citizens will do what the government requires of them, yet they are loathe to being left vulnerable to those who are criminally motivated and will acquire, possess and use firearms irrespective of law. In my view, much community safety can be achieved by improved databases which assist police in identifying violators by name and likely location.

Prior to 2007, law enforcement did not have an adequate database to properly enforce firearms possession/purchasing laws, but steady improvement has been made since that time. Databases have become more consolidated and accessible by local law enforcement agencies. And with the continuing gang threats and swelling population of early-release inmates from state prisons and local jails, the need for improved firearms enforcement is that much more necessary.

The state and federal laws become more complex as one reads into the depths of the codified language, and I cannot hope to cover it all in this column. However, there are also certain misdemeanor instances where persons convicted cannot own or possess a firearm. For example, crimes that normally are charged as misdemeanors may end up as felonies when there are multiple prior violations.

Persons who are under certain court-ordered injunctions or restraining orders, in many instances, are prohibited from possessing firearms. This frequently arises in situations where there are domestic violence issues and injunctions against gang members prohibiting them from being in certain geographical areas and from carrying deadly weapons at any time.

Juveniles may not possess firearms, unless accompanied by a parent. They must be free of the various circumstances that, by law, would otherwise prohibit them from such possession.

There is yet another category of people who are prohibited from possessing firearms, even if they have not been convicted of any felony. These would include people who have been deemed mentally "unfit" by a qualified medical professional. Unlike databases of convicted criminals, the mentally unfit are not so easily categorized or entered into a database; and perhaps for good reason. A person's mental state is subject to change, and in some instances, a lapse in mental fitness might be temporary and never to happen again. In my view, the intent of the law, insofar as mental fitness and firearms are concerned, is good, but not easily enforced. Most of the time, such "violations" are discovered once a crime has been committed, and it is only then that a person's lack of mental fitness is discovered. There are many examples of these situations over the years, with the most recent and public ones involving persons who have shot high profile politicians, entertainers and other public figures.

We will likely never get the illegal use of firearms under total control, but I am confident that much more can be done through inter-agency coordination, improved databases, related resources, and tough punishment measures against those who are banned from firearms ownership or those who use firearms in the commission of any crime. It is also critical that owners of firearms take all necessary steps to safeguard their guns from thefts, as this is the primary way persons prohibited from possessing them acquire them. It is important to secure them properly in a gun safe and be sure to keep serial numbers and descriptions on hand in case the firearms do go missing. The police regularly come across firearms they believe to be stolen, but cannot confirm it unless the theft has been properly reported to police.