Tense moments as California agents confiscate illegal guns

(CBS News) STOCKTON, Calif. - Since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there has been a lot of talk about getting guns out of the hands of people not entitled to have them. California is trying. However, it's a lot easier said than done.

CBS News rode along with Special Agent John Marsh of the state's Department of Justice, as his team prepared to confiscate guns from a man in Stockton, California.

"He's a felon," said Marsh, "and he has two handguns still registered to him."

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It's tense work. The agents are looking for those who are convicted felons or mentally unstable. And they have guns.

The state has a list of about 20,000 such people with 40,000 guns. But because of budget restrictions, there are only 33 agents to find them.

"A huge backlog right now," said Marsh, who also acknowledged it takes so much manpower. "This type of enforcement is very labor intensive. When you're going after armed prohibited people, it heightens the level of potential violence."

In six years, agents have been seizing guns. They've prevented shootouts by showing up unexpectedly in force, as many as 10 agents.

"When you are going to take their guns, they're not happy," said Marsh.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris said that the people on the list are the ones who should not be in possession of a gun.

"They are those people who have been proven to violate the law and present a threat to public safety. And I'm going after them."

Last year, Harris' agents seized 2,033 guns. On the night we were out, it took five-and-a-half hours to seize five guns. But with 40,000 guns out there, does it seem like Marsh will never catch them? "Sometimes it feels like we're treading water," he answered.

The agents could be close to going under water. About 3,000 new names are added to the list every year.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.

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