This is a sampling from Bay Area News Group's Political Blotter blog. Read more and post comments at www.ibabuzz.com/politics.

Dec. 17

Though California voters rejected a ballot measure last month that would've abolished the state's death penalty, a new report shows capital punishment continues to decline nationwide.

The Death Penalty Information Center's survey found only nine states carried out executions in 2012 -- the fewest in 20 years. More than half of the states (29) now either have no death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years.

The 43 executions carried out in the United States in 2012 were 56 percent less than the peak in 1999, and equal to last year's total. The number of new death sentences in 2012 was the second-lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976: 80 people were sentenced to death in 2012, representing a 74 percent decline since the 315 death sentences rendered in 1996.

Many death penalty states with histories of high use had no new death sentences or no executions in 2012. For example, there were none in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, the latter of which is second only to Texas in total executions since 1976,

"Capital punishment is becoming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country," Richard Dieter, DPIC's executive director and the report's author, said in a news release. "In 2012, fewer states have the death penalty, fewer carried out executions, and death sentences and executions were clustered in a small number of states. It is very likely that more states will take up the question of death penalty repeal in the years ahead."

California's Proposition 34, which would've abolished the state's death penalty and replaced it with life in prison without possibility of parole, won the support of 48 percent of voters in November's election. Elsewhere, Connecticut this year became the 17th state to repeal its death penalty.

Dec. 18

California may have a sizable leg up on other states in taking guns away from mentally ill people, who are barred by law from owning them.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris said Tuesday that more than 2,000 firearms were seized in 2012 from people in California who were legally barred from possessing them, including mentally unstable people and those with active restraining orders. She noted the state has clear laws determining who can and can't possess firearms based on their threat to public safety.

"Enforcing those laws is crucial because we have seen the terrible tragedies that occur when guns are in the wrong hands," she said, referring to a mentally ill gunman's spree at a Connecticut elementary school that claimed 26 lives, including 20 children.

Harris said 33 state Department of Justice agents used its Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) database to identify felons, people with active restraining orders, people determined to be mentally unstable and others barred from owning guns. Agents seized 2,033 firearms, 117,000 rounds of ammunition and 11,072 illegal high-capacity magazines from Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, with most of the firearms seized during two six-week sweeps.

The first statewide sweep targeted people barred from gun ownership because of mental health issues, and the second focused on people with legally registered assault weapons who were later prohibited from owning them.

Harris last year sponsored SB 819, carried by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to increase funding for the APPS program through the use of existing regulatory fees collected by gun dealers. The new law took effect at the start of this year.

The APPS database cross-references people who have legally bought handguns and registered assault weapons since 1996 with people later prohibited from owning or possessing firearms.

APPS was launched in November 2006, and the first statewide sweep was conducted in 2007. California is the only state to have created such a database.