SACRAMENTO, Calif. --California will have a backlog for the foreseeable future in a unique firearms seizure program even if state lawmakers approve permanent funding, officials said Thursday.
Lawmakers gave the state Department of Justice an additional $24 million in 2013 to eliminate the backlog by now by collecting more guns.
The program currently has 11,830 gun owners who bought firearms legally but were later convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, became subject to a domestic violence restraining order or were determined to be mentally unstable, said Stephen Lindley, who heads the state's Bureau of Firearms.
That's down from nearly 21,000 when lawmakers temporarily increased the program's budget after a series of mass shootings.
The additional money runs out in May, and Attorney General Kamala Harris is asking lawmakers to make the funding permanent.
But Lindley couldn't say when the backlog would be eliminated even if legislators agree.
The goal is to get the backlog down to about 8,300 by next year, department officials told lawmakers during a Senate budget subcommittee hearing.
Lindley says he wants to trim the backlog within two years to "a reasonable backlog we can handle on an annual basis."
He said recent expansions of the state's gun control laws caused the continued backlog. Without the additional funding, he said the backlog would have ballooned to 34,000 by next year.
Harris is a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate this year. Her department's progress won praise from Democrats, including the budget committee chairman, Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, who sought the $24 million in temporary money.
"Of course we'd love the number to be zero today," Leno said of the backlog. "But we don't live in that world."
Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, criticized what he said is a lack of sufficient progress.
But Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, applauded Lindley for taking his suggestion to send letters to gun owners whose names were added to the list years ago but who may no longer be prohibited from ownership.
That's down about 44 percent from when lawmakers increased the program's budget.