California task force takes illegal guns off the street

California is the only state with a database that cross references gun owners with people who have criminal convictions, restraining orders or serious mental health issues. A special task force is charged with taking firearms away from people who are not allowed to have them.

Special agent Sam Richardson and his team from the California Department of Justice track down people who are prohibited from having firearms. Their goal: To take them away.

"You're going to people's homes who are known to have guns, and a criminal conviction in some cases?" asked CBS News correspondent Carter Evans.

"Right," replied Richardson. "It's zero to 100 in a second."

The agents entered the house of a convicted felon who is on probation and has a domestic violence restraining order. For those reasons, he's not legally allowed to have access to guns.

Agents searched his home and came out with two rifles, found in a closet.

"This guy knows he's not supposed to have guns?" asked Evans.

"That's right," said Richardson.

But when asked if he knew the guns were there, the suspect said no.

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A gent removes two guns form the home of a convicted felon, who is on probation and has a domestic violence restraining order.

CBS News

In California, when someone has a criminal conviction or is deemed mentally incompetent, that person's name is flagged in the Armed and Prohibited Persons System (or APPS). According to Special Agent Tony Ladell, there are more than 10,000 people in the database.

When asked how many guns are taken off the streets each year, he replied, "Thousands."

It's tedious work: In the nine hours Evans was with agents, they went to six locations and recovered two guns.  

Is it worth all the hard work? "Yes, it is," replied Ladell. "I feel like what we're doing, by taking one gun at a time off the streets of California, is making our community safer."

But that's hard to prove. There is no federally-funded research into gun violence or prevention programs like this. University of California, Davis, researcher Dr. Garen Wintemute is using state funds to study the effectiveness of APPS.

"Our hypothesis is that taking guns away from high-risk people will reduce their risk of committing violence down the road," Dr. Wintemute said. "If we find that APPS works, I'll be talking to anybody who will listen about this program."

Evans said, "I'm sure there are people out there who are going to see this and say, 'This is just the beginning, they're coming to take all our guns.'"

"That's not the way this program works," said Richardson. "This program specifically targets a certain class of people that have lost their right to have a firearm."

"So you're not trying to disarm the good guys?"

"No, not at all."