Stanislaus County supervisors OK effort to seize illegal firearms, reduce gun violence

Garth Stapley/

Stanislaus County leaders approved a $568,600 grant through the Attorney General’s Office to step up efforts to seize guns from people who illegally possess them.

Sheriff Jeff Dirkse told county supervisors the funding will help law enforcement seize firearms from convicted felons, adults who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders, people with severe mental illness and others who are possessing guns in violation of state and federal laws.

“There is concern from some folks that we will go after lawfully owned guns and that is not the case,” said Dirkse, who stressed he’s a firm believer in gun ownership rights under the Second Amendment.

The county received the funding through Attorney General Rob Bonta’s effort to reduce gun violence. According to the state Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms, 413 people in Stanislaus County are disqualified from gun ownership because of criminal convictions, their mental state or other legal violations.

A state database shows that 1,008 weapons are associated with those “prohibited owners,” including 19 assault weapons. In most cases, the owners legally acquired the guns but later were disqualified by criminal convictions or other circumstances.

Dirkse’s presentation showed that 278 of the owners have felony convictions and 186 are disqualified by mental illness.

Supervisor Terry Withrow said seizing firearms from convicted felons sounds like a risky operation and he asked how individuals will be contacted.

Dirkse said the Sheriff’s Department will send letters to some prohibited owners with instructions for turning in the firearms. “A lot of folks probably don’t know they are in violation,” Dirkse said

The sheriff said other seizures from convicted felons may require as much as a SWAT response.

The Sheriff’s Department will use a state database, called the Armed Prohibited Persons System, to find those who possess firearms in violation of the laws.

California law disqualifies people from buying or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of felonies, domestic violence or other crimes. The state also prohibits gun ownership by people with a history of severe mental illness or who are the subject of domestic violence or workplace restraining orders.

According to a county staff report, the program will aim to recover 100% of the assault weapons and at least 50% of the handguns from prohibited owners this year. Dirkse said those goals are probably ambitious.

The grant will pay for one detective position, a crime analyst, equipment and training. It will fund gun violence reduction activities through Jan. 1, 2025.

The state’s APPS database stores information on firearm purchases and registration. The information is collected from registered gun dealers, firearm ownership paperwork and assault weapon registrations.

The records include people who purchased or transferred firearms legally in California. Owners are moved into the “prohibited file” of the state database when they have been convicted of crimes or disqualified from gun ownership for other reasons.

An Attorney General’s Office online post says 24,509 people in the database, or less than 1% of the 3.2 million registered owners in California, have been disqualified from owning guns.