New push to tighten gun laws in state
Effort would ease taking unstable people’s firearms
SACRAMENTO — As a troubling history emerged of the killer who took 12 lives in a Southern California bar, a San Francisco lawmaker said Friday he would renew efforts to pass a twice-vetoed bill that would broaden courts’ ability to temporarily take away guns from unstable people.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said he believes he has a better chance of passing the bill next year for one reason: the election of Gavin Newsom as governor.
Gov. Jerry Brown twice vetoed Ting-authored bills that would have allowed a broader range of people to petition a court for gun restraining orders against unstable people. Newsom said this week he wants to pursue additional gun-safety bills, including some vetoed by Brown, leaving Ting “hopeful.”
The state’s seldom-used gun-restraining-order law now allows law enforcement officers, immediate family members and roommates to petition a court to remove guns from a person for 21 days. Such restraining orders can be extended for a year.
Ting plans to reintroduce a version of his vetoed bills next month. It would allow teachers, co-workers and employers to request the orders.
“I’m convinced this is a good tool,” Ting said.
This week’s massacre was committed by a man who opened fire in a bar in Thousand Oaks (Ventura County) with a handgun that had an extended magazine, authorities said. He killed 12 people, including a sheriff ’s sergeant and a Pepperdine University student from Napa.
Those who knew the killer, who was found dead after the massacre, have said he was prone to angry outbursts and possibly suffered from posttraumatic stress from service in the Marines. A former high school teacher told the Los Angeles Times that he assaulted her when he was a student in 2008.
In April, officers responded to a disturbance call at the kill-
er’s home and found him acting irrationally, said Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean. But, after a mental health evaluation, the man was deemed not eligible for an involuntary psychiatric hold.
Mental health experts say too many people who are unstable — but not enough so for an involuntary hold — are able to possess guns. The state’s gun violence restraining order is intended to bridge that gap, but the law is seldom used.
“I don’t know why his guns weren’t taken away,” Ting said. “And now 12 people have paid with their lives.”
The first-of-its-kind law was written by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, after a 22-year-old man killed six people in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara in 2014. Before those slayings, the killer’s mother had expressed concerns about his mental health after seeing his online postings. That prompted a wellness check by police, but law enforcement officials said there was little else they could do.
Since California passed its gun-restraining-order law, 13 states have enacted similar policies, including eight states this year, said Garen Wintemute, an emergency room doctor at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and director of the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center.
The center is collecting and evaluating data from gun-restraining-order cases in California. It has found a steady increase each year since the law took effect in 2016.
Still, the law is vastly underused, Wintemute said. It is effective in the cases in which it has been invoked, he said.
“I am personally aware of two mass shootings that did not occur” because of gun restraining orders, Wintemute said.
He said that in those cases, both in Southern California, a person made a credible threat and then tried to buy guns. During the state’s 10-day waiting period, officers filed gun restraining orders that prevented the two from buying firearms.
“California has been behind the curve in getting the word out that these even exist,” Wintemute said. “We’ve had maybe 300 over the three years, and we are a state with 40 million people.”
The gun restraining order is similar to obtaining a domestic violence restraining order. People who are subject to one are also barred from buying
“I am personally aware of two mass shootings that did not occur” because of gun restraining orders. Dr. Garen Wintemute, UC Firearm Violence Research Center director
firearms or ammunition.
Statewide, 189 petitions for gun violence restraining orders were granted in 2016 and 2017, state Justice Department figures show. Data from 2018 were not available Friday.
Family members accounted for just 12 of those requests in 2016 and 2017 — the rest came from law enforcement.
In Ventura County, where the bar massacre happened, law enforcement officials used the law four times in 2016 and 2017. None of the gun restraining orders came at the request of family members or roommates.
Ting said the state needs to do more to ensure that officers and the public know that the law exists. His previous bills have faced opposition from both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association, an unlikely pairing in the state Capitol. The ACLU opposed the measure because it feared it could be used against people who weren’t actually unstable.
Craig DeLuz, a spokesman for the Firearms Policy Coalition, a gun-rights group in Sacramento, said gun restraining orders are unfairly granted before a person has a chance to respond.
“People have a right to due process,” DeLuz said Friday. “If we get rid of due process in this case, what is prohibiting that from happening in other instances?”
A woman places a candle at a memorial to the victims of a mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks (Ventura County) this week.