‘This Is Not a Government Gun Grab’

Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office to ‘Encourage’ 163 Gun Owners to Hand Over Illegally Owned Firearms

Credit: Paul Wellman (file photo)

For the past four years, the California Department of Justice has maintained a county-by-county list of people who own firearms but who legally are prohibited from doing so for a host of reasons. As of January 1 this year, there were 163 names on that list. But until recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) offered local law enforcement agencies no additional resources to deal with those identified as persons prohibited from owning firearms.

“It was just a list we had hanging out there,” said Chief Deputy Craig Bonner with the county Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Deputy Craig Bonner | Credit: Courtesy

That changed this year when Lt. Juan Camarena — who’s running for sheriff against incumbent Bill Brown in this year’s election — secured the Sheriff’s Office a two-year grant for $685,000 to make sure those on the list still deserved to be there and if so, to do something about it.

“This is not a government gun grab,” stressed Bonner. “We’re not looking for doors to kick down. We’re looking to educate and encourage people to comply.”

Many people on the list, Bonner suggested, may not even know they’re prohibited for owning the firearms they legally purchased. For example, people who were committed to a mental-health hold because they posed an imminent threat to themselves or others might not be aware that they are barred by state law from being in possession of firearms. And if they were committed by their own doctors, law enforcement agencies probably wouldn’t know about it.

“It’s about closing gaps,” Bonner said. Bonner said the money would cover the cost of a full-time detective plus overtime costs accrued by others in the department. The list must first be verified, he said, meaning the detective assigned must determine if the listing is still valid and the individuals named still resided in Santa Barbara County. After that, there would be a phone call or a knock on the door.

The job requires “some pretty darn good people skills,” Bonner said, and the detective selected, Troy Holman, has more than 20 years’ experience.

To show compliance, the person must show that they’ve transferred ownership of the firearms in question through a licensed firearms dealer. Search warrants and seizures would only occur, Bonner said, only as a last resort if Detective Holman were told “to pound sand.”

According to statistics provided by Camarena, the 163 prohibited individuals reportedly possess 422 firearms; of those, 417 are handguns and five are designated as assault weapons. Last year, there were 182 individuals on the list with 470 weapons, and the year before that, it was 176 people and 453 weapons.

Of this year’s list, the largest number — 114 — had been convicted of a felony, 49 had had a domestic violence restraining order issued against them, 41 had been placed on mental-health holds, and 29 had been convicted of misdemeanors. Of the 163 listed for this year, 109 are the subject of a lifetime ban on firearm possession. For 40, the ban expires after 2020, and for 14, the ban expires sometime in the coming year.

“One of our overarching concerns,” Bonner emphasized, “is domestic violence.”

This list should not be confused with those who’ve had their firearms taken because of gun violence restraining orders. In 2020, the county recorded 851 such restraining orders. In 2017, the first year such restraining orders had been authorized, the number was 88.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on 3/9/22 to include newer and additional statistics.

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