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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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April 3rd, 2013
06:49 PM ET

Enforcing existing gun laws is an underfunded, under-resourced battle

The one priority that everyone in the gun debate seems to agree on is that the laws on the books should be enforced to keep guns out of the hands of those whom, society has ruled, should not have them, such as felons, or those with adjudicated emotional and mental problems, or those with domestic violence restraining orders

Simple, right? Wrong.

We recently spent a night with special law enforcement agents from the California Attorney General's office. California requires all handguns to be registered. Agents compare the list of registered gun owners with a separate list of those not allowed to have guns, and they come up with a third list – people referred to as "armed and prohibited." There are nearly 20,000 on that list, and it is growing every year. And to confiscate these guns, California has just 33 agents.

We recently accompanied Special Agent John Marsh on a case. Marsh spends most of his time tracking down guns from people everyone seems to agree should not have them.

"I only focus on people that have been identified as being prohibited from owning guns. And those are the only people we target, and those are the people that should be worried," said Marsh.

For Marsh and his fellow agents, danger always lies just beyond closed doors.

We start in the city of Fontana, east of Los Angeles, a town law enforcement agents jokingly refer to as Fontucky. At house after house, the person they are looking for is not home. Even when someone is home, it is never simple. Inside one house were two young children, two guns, and a man convicted of domestic violence.

The man inside admitted to having guns, but wouldn't let the agents in to search. So, they wait.

"Now that the courts are closed we'll have to find a judge. We are looking at a good two-, three-hour process before we can get the search warrant," said Marsh. Someone will have to put everything that happened tonight, including the investigation, into a search warrant, added Marsh.

"And then we'll have to find the on-call judge, and present the search warrant to the judge, and then come back and search the residence for the illegal firearms that are in the house," said the special agent.

It is a lot of work for sometimes little reward. On our night out with the California agents they only made contact with a handful of the people they were looking for.

Inside another house where our cameras had to wait outside, they found a large confederate flag, boxes and boxes of who-knows-what, a bunch of guns, and a felon not allowed to be near them.

He fainted while they were inside.

Though some of the agents questioned the legitimacy of the fainting spell, they still had to call an ambulance. In all, the resources invested in getting guns from this one felon included eight law enforcement agents, a fire truck, and paramedics.

The end result?

A haul of "four rifles and one semi-automatic hand gun, and then corresponding ammunition for those weapons," said Marsh.

This is in the house of a felon who had committed assault against an officer, committed felony assault, and was not allowed to have access to guns or ammunition. Yet he did.

In all, the Department of Justice in California has confiscated more than 10,000 weapons this way since 2006. But there is still a backlog of nearly 20,000 people because there are just too few agents to go after the weapons.

"Whatever we can do helps," says Marsh.

Every year the department sets a goal of taking guns from 2,000 of the people on the armed and prohibited list. And every year, the agents say, 3,000 more people are added to the list.

Just after we filmed this story, the California legislature, in a bipartisan vote, approved an additional $24 million for the program, which will likely double the number of agents they have to do this work. The additional revenue will come from fees paid by people buying guns.

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