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Amid a national debate about preventing the mentally ill from owning firearms, one state has a potentially potent weapon — in California, officials are allowed to confiscate guns from convicted felons and those with a history of mental illness.

Just one problem. Staff shortages and funding cuts in recent years have left a backlog of nearly 20,000 people to disarm, says Stephen Lindley, chief of the Bureau of Firearms for the state Department of Justice.

According to the state DOJ, that’s nearly 40,000 handguns and assault weapons currently in circulation that shouldn’t be.

As Capitol Hill begins to debate a raft of anti-gun violence measures — ranging from gun control bills to proposals to improve screening and the mental health system — California officials are trying to take matters into their own hands.