Let’s Reduce Gun Violence By Educating the Public and Training Our Police to Use California’s “Red Flag” Law

California has some of the country’s strictest gun control laws; these laws are likely the reason that California has one of the lowest overall gun deaths per capita in the nation.

Yet, as the recent mass shooting in Gilroy shows, our state laws are not enough, by themselves, to prevent our residents from becoming victims of gun violence. In order to better protect our residents in California from gun violence, two more crucial steps need to be taken.

One of these steps — and by far the most important — is that Federal gun regulations must catch-up to California’s. 

The assault rifle used in the mass shooting in Gilroy is banned in California, but it is legal in our neighboring state of Nevada, where it was legally bought by the killer three weeks before the shooting.

The killer also had several high capacity magazines for the weapon, which are also illegal in California, but not in Nevada where they were bought.

Until the federal government finds the courage to defy the NRA and the gun dealer lobby, it will be very difficult to prevent these weapons of war from other states from being brought into and used in California.

For this reason, national action on gun violence should be advocated by everyone in California who cares about reducing gun violence.  Politicians who support the current president’s policy of giving veto power over federal gun regulations to the gun dealer lobby are undermining the effectiveness of California’s gun laws. For California to be safe, assault rifles and large capacity magazines must be outlawed in all of the states.

But another important step can be taken now, by us, even at the local level. That step is to inform and educate the public — and train our police officers — on the effective use of California’s gun regulations that are already on the books.

Perhaps the most important of these gun regulations is California’s “red flag” law, which empowers family members and law enforcement officers to petition courts to obtain a “Gun Violence Restraining Order” (GVRO) to temporarily limit a person’s access to guns if they are an “immediate and present danger” of harming themselves or others.

In 2014, California became the first state to let family members ask a judge to remove firearms from a relative who appears to pose a threat.  The “Gun Violence Restraining Order” law (California Penal Code Section 18100 et sec), modeled after domestic violence restraining orders, allows police or family members to obtain a judge’s order to disarm a gun owner they fear will turn violent. The order requires the gun owner to surrender all firearms for 21 days, and can be extended to a full year after a hearing.

The California legislature took action after a mentally ill man killed six students and wounded 13 others near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before killing himself. Authorities were legally unable to confiscate the weapons of the killer, despite his family’s having expressed concerns to authorities that he would become violent.

California’s law also empowers police to petition for the protective orders, which can require authorities to remove firearms for up to one year. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have since adopted similar laws.

Red flag laws save lives.

A recent study by the U.C. Davis School of Medicine found that California’s red flag law has significantly reduced gun violence.

According to Laura Cutilletta, legal director of the Giffords Law Center, California’s red flag law acts as a sort of timeout, so someone in psychological distress can get counseling while their fitness to possess a gun is evaluated.  “It’s a way to allow for temporary removal of firearms in a situation just like this: where somebody has made threats, where they have been expelled from school because of those threats, they’re in counseling, and parents or the school or whoever it is understands that this person poses a threat,” she explained.

However, the effectiveness of the red flag law has been limited by the lack of awareness of the law on the part of both the public and the police.  Too often, neither the public nor the local police are aware of or encouraged to obtain Gun Violence Restraining Orders.

A national organization, Speak for Safety, has formed for the specific purpose of raising awareness of the Gun Violence Restraining Order as a tool to remove firearms and ammunition from people who are an immediate danger to themselves or others.

Too often, neither family members nor law enforcement personnel know that such a gun violence prevention tool exists, even in states, like California, that have very effective GVRO laws on the books.

San Diego is an exception.  Since 2017, San Diego County has issued more than 300 orders, more than any other county in the state. They have been used to intervene in escalating cases of domestic violence, to prevent potential suicides, and with people with potentially dangerous mental illness. In the end, the police have seized more than 400 weapons and nearly 80,000 rounds of ammunition. As San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott has stated, ““We have no problem with responsible people having guns,” she said. “Our concern are the people who are no longer responsible. That’s when we’ll step in.”

Student march on Harvard Avenue in Irvine for stricter gun control. Photo: Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG).

The San Diego City Attorney’s office has been given a grant by the State of California to provide this training.  According to the San Diego City Attorney’s office, “Using case studies, we explain ways to apply the law, describe the process for obtaining a GVRO, and address complex issues concerning domestic violence, juveniles and individuals with neurological disorders, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. We also devote a significant amount of time to the topics of service, search warrants and seizure (firearms). The curriculum is directed at those responsible for implementing and coordinating a GVRO program at their agencies. Typically, all forms of law enforcement and city attorneys, with law enforcement clients, would directly benefit from this event. We have received nothing but positive feedback, increased interest and requests for more training from the law enforcement agencies and city attorneys we have worked with so far.”

You can see San Diego’s slide presentation about California’s red flag law here.

I believe that Irvine should also be a leader in utilizing the common sense gun control regulations that are already on the books.

Therefore, I will propose that the Irvine City Council work with City Staff and the Irvine Police Department to devise and implement a public awareness and education program regarding California’s red flag law, hold training sessions on the red flag law for members of the Irvine Police Department, and direct our law enforcement officers to use GVROs whenever appropriate.  We should contact both the San Diego City Attorney’s Office and the State of California about providing us with assistance with red flag training, procedures, and protocols.

Please join me in this effort by contacting the Mayor and the Irvine City Council and urging them to support this common sense proposal to use California’s existing red flag law to prevent gun violence and save lives in Irvine.

Everyone who knows someone who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others with a gun, should know how to “Speak for Safety” with a GVRO.

Sign our petition for common sense gun regulation here.