Editorials

Here’s a California gun law that saves lives. If only Florida had such a law

In this 2014 file photo, images of shooting victim Christopher Martinez are displayed in a memorial in Isle Vista. California lawmakers approved a law allowing for gun violence restraining orders following the attack that left six people dead.
In this 2014 file photo, images of shooting victim Christopher Martinez are displayed in a memorial in Isle Vista. California lawmakers approved a law allowing for gun violence restraining orders following the attack that left six people dead. AP

A man armed with an AR-15 assault weapon made serious threats, not in Parkland, Fla., but in La Jolla. There, authorities had the power to act.

The La Jolla man had texted his fiancée to say he intended to shoot her in the head. To drive home the point, he visited her ex-boyfriend and threatened to kill him, too.

Rather than wait until the man acted on his impulses, San Diego police turned the information over to San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott, whose deputies used a relatively new California law to obtain a court-imposed gun violence restraining order requiring the man to turn over his gun last month.

Legislation pending in roughly other 18 states would follow the lead of California, Washington and Oregon by authorizing gun violence restraining orders. We can only imagine what might not have happened if such a law had been in place in Florida.

After Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 to slaughter 17 children and teachers last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the FBI acknowledged that someone had called its tip line in January describing Cruz’s erratic behavior and threats. The FBI failed to act. What if the tipster had called Parkland police, and what if they could have sought a court order to force Cruz to give up his AR-15? We’ll never know.

California’s law, which took effect in 2016, allows police or family members to go before a judge seeking orders directing individuals to give up their firearms for a year. Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and then-Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, carried Assembly Bill 1014 after 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people with a knife and gun near UC Santa Barbara before shooting himself to death in 2014. California’s police chiefs were among the bill’s supporters, as were gun safety advocates.

A new campaign by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, SpeakforSafety.org, is underway to promote public knowledge of gun violence restraining orders. They obviously aren’t a grand solution to gun violence. But they can save lives.

Elliott, San Diego’s city attorney, has used the law to take guns from 10 dangerous individuals since December. They include an ex-Marine who walked into an auto parts store with a loaded handgun, but called police before shooting anyone; a demented 81-year-old man who threatened to shoot his 75-year-old wife and a neighbor because he believed they were having an affair; and the 40-year-old La Jolla man with the AR-15.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, is reintroducing 2016 legislation to expand the law by adding employers, co-workers, high school and college staff, and mental health workers to the list of individuals who could seek gun violence restraining orders.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Ting’s previous bill, noting he wanted to see how the measure would work before expanding it. Now that there’s a history, Brown and legislators should sort out whether Ting’s expanded list is appropriate, and fill in any gaps in the existing law. Elliott told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member that police may not have ready access to information about individuals who have such orders against them. That ought to be fixed.

So far, Republican legislators have not supported bills for gun violence restraining order. We hope that changes.

David French of the National Review, among the nation’s most prominent conservative writers, recently extolled the wisdom of these orders. He writes that restraining orders recognize “the inherent right of self-defense and the inherent right of due process.” And, we hasten to add, the right of children to go to school and the rest of us to go about our lives without becoming victims of some guy with a gun.

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