Californians will soon be able to ask courts to take guns away from co-workers and students they believe to be dangerous, under a new law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed on Friday.
Law enforcement agencies and immediate family members today are the only people who can file a petition to halt another person’s access to guns. Assembly Bill 61 will expand the use of gun violence restraining orders.
Starting on Sept. 1, 2020, schools and employers can also initiate requests.
California has seen three dozen mass shootings thus far into 2019, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization tracking the issue. More than 12,000 people died in the state from firearms between 2014 and 2017, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, has tried to get his proposal signed into law for the last several years. He said 2020 could mark a turning point by allowing the state to intervene more often before residents experience gun-related deaths.
“It’s going to be very significant,” Ting said. “But even if it’s just making a dent, those are lives being saved. If we only save one life or 10 lives, those are people absolutely worth saving. We believe everyone needs to be much more proactive.”
But it remains unclear how effective the new law will be in preventing deaths, given that the gun violence restraining orders have not been widely used across the state since courts started issuing them in 2016.
In Ting’s district, San Francisco County secured one restraining order between 2016 and 2018, according to data from the California Department of Justice. Sacramento County has gotten 16 petitions approved in court during that same time period, which is more than Fresno, Stanislaus and San Luis Obispo counties, combined. San Luis Obispo obtained four gun violence restraining orders, while Fresno got two. Stanislaus is one of 20 California counties that have yet to secure a restraining order, as of Jan. 1, 2019.
San Diego has obtained 203 GVROs, which accounts for nearly one-third of the 614 petitions courts have approved across the state from 2016 to 2018. In the vast majority of cases — 97 percent — California police departments secure the restraining order, not family members.
Ting hopes his bill will help educate the public and encourage them to speak up if they believe someone should have their guns taken away. Co-workers of a potentially dangerous person should speak with their company’s human relations department because they’ll need the company’s approval in order to file a petition. High school and college teachers need approval from school administrators, such as principals.