S.F. Struggles to Enforce New Gun Control Laws

The city’s Adult Probation Department is overwhelmed with the task of confiscating guns from felons and violent criminals, prompting emergency funding from the mayor.

A gun seized by Tenderloin Police Officers in January. (Courtesy SFPD)

A California gun control proposition that voters passed in 2016 is having a big impact on San Francisco, and authorities and politicians are hustling to hire staff to keep up with demand.

Under Proposition 63, gun owners were banned from possessing large-capacity ammunition magazines and had to acquire permits to purchase bullets. In addition, the resolution created a process for authorities to confiscate guns from felons or those who’ve been convicted of a violent misdemeanor.

Since it went into effect on Jan. 1, the city’s Adult Probation Department — which is in charge of enforcing the new law — has seen upward of 50 cases per week that it has to manage, a number that’s 60 percent higher than what original projections anticipated.

In response, Mayor Mark Farrell announced Tuesday that he’ll allocate $800,000 in additional funding to support the hiring of five new probation officers to aid with the efforts. 

“When we keep weapons out of the hands of felons, we make our communities safer for all San Franciscans,” Farrell said. “We cannot allow these criminals to continue to have access to weapons. Gun violence is a tragic epidemic in our city, state and country, but we are taking meaningful steps in San Francisco to remove firearms from the most dangerous individuals in our society.”

The funding decision comes just one week after Farrell dismissed Board of Supervisors President London Breed’s request to fund counsel for tenants facing eviction and higher wages for nonprofit workers, citing a $200 million deficit the city faces over the next two years.

“I am not making any commitments to anybody at this time,” Farrell told Breed on March 13.

Gun violence, however, appears to be the exception. It’s hard to argue with: In 2017, 38 of the city’s 56 homicides were gun-related. An additional 160 victims were shot by guns in San Francisco last year but didn’t die from their injuries. If the Adult Probation Department does its job, it’s possible we’ll see a slight drop in gun-related homicides citywide.

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