Gun Violence Restraining Orders A Possible Solution to America’s Gun Issues

With both sides of the political spectrum firmly entrenched in their beliefs about gun ownership and with Congress in the back pocket of the gun lobby, it is highly unlikely that the rights granted under the Second Amendment are under threat.  Americans will continue to own guns and a very small minority of those Americans will use their lawfully acquired firearms to kill innocent men, women and children.  One state, California, has a solution that seems to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum and may form the basis for national gun laws that are palatable to the majority of Americans.

In September 2014, the Governor of California signed into law Assembly Bill Number 1014, Chapter 872 which stated the following (in part):

Existing law regulates the sale, transfer, possession, and ownership of firearms, including prohibiting specified persons from owning or possessing firearms. Existing law, among other things, generally prohibits a person subject to a domestic violence protective order from owning or possessing a firearm while that order is in effect.

This bill would authorize a court to issue a temporary emergency gun violence restraining order if a law enforcement officer asserts and a judicial officer finds that there is reasonable cause to believe that the subject of the petition poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another by having in his or her custody or control, owning, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm and that the order is necessary to prevent personal injury to himself, herself, or another, as specified. The bill would require a law enforcement officer to serve the order on the restrained person, if the restrained person can reasonably be located, file a copy of the order with the court, and have the order entered into the computer database system for protective and restraining orders maintained by the Department of Justice. The bill would require the presiding judge of the superior court of each county to designate at least one judge, commissioner, or referee who is required to be reasonably available to issue temporary emergency gun violence restraining orders when the court is not in session.

This bill would additionally authorize a court to issue an ex parte gun violence restraining order prohibiting the subject of the petition from having in his or her custody or control, owning, purchasing, possessing, or receiving, or attempting to purchase or receive, a firearm or ammunition when it is shown that there is a substantial likelihood that the subject of the petition poses a significant danger of harm to himself, herself, or another in the near future by having in his or her custody or control, owning, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm and that the order is necessary to prevent personal injury to himself, herself, or another, as specified.”

Gun violence restraining orders or GVROs are similar to the restraining orders that are commonly issued under family law.  In this case, the GRVO allows spouses, parents, siblings or a person living with an individual (i.e. ex parte) that may pose a firearms-related threat to petition the court for an order that would allow law enforcement officials to temporarily take that individuals firearms.  By allowing family members to petition the courts directly, the issue of law enforcement dropping the ball, as was the case in the recent Florida school shooting, is eliminated.  In the Florida school shooting, the FBI admitted that it did not respond properly to a timely warning by a person close to Nikolas Cruz (the shooter) that he posed a firearms threat.  In fact, this is what FBI director Christopher Wray had to say about the FBI’s ineptitude and what Americans should be doing about gun violence in their neighbourhoods:

It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly.”

This “dropped FBI ball” could have been eliminated under a GVRO system.

Under California’s GVRO, the court is authorized to issue an ex parte gun violence restraining order which would prohibit the subject of the petition from having in his or her custody or control, owning, purchasing, possessing or attempting to purchase or receive a firearm or ammunition when it is shown that that individual is likely to cause harm to themselves or others in the near future with said firearms.  The GVRO would expire no more than 21 days after the date on the order and would require the court to hold a hearing within 21 days of issuing the order.  The  order can also be renewed for additional one-year periods if the respondent is still deemed likely to be a threat.  In case you thought that GVROs could be used by persons with a grudge against another person who just happens to own firearms, the bill makes it a misdemeanour to file a petition for a GVRO knowing that the information in the petition is false or is made with the intention to harass.

What should appeal to both sides of the gun debate is that the gun violence restraining order recognizes the right to own firearms, the right of self-defence and the right of due process in a court of law.  The fact that the request for the GVRO is sourced from people close to the respondent rather than from law enforcement officials who are often viewed as simply interested in confiscation is also somewhat reassuring.

Since the law went into effect in 2016, California has issued 76 gun violence restraining orders and 10 restraining orders after a hearing for a total of 86 GVROs during 2016.  A total of 15 orders were issued by Los Angeles County courts, the most in California, followed by Santa Barbara County courts.

While gun violence restraining orders may not be the entire solution to America’s gun issues, at the very least, it puts the power to prevent gun violence in the hands of families rather than law enforcement and politicians, two groups that have long proven themselves to be incompetent when it comes to controlling at least some civilian firearms deaths.

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