Assemblymember Phil Ting is working to help get guns out of the hands of dangerous people. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Law allowing gun violence restraining orders undergoes major expansion

Legislation allows employers, co-workers and school employees to petition court to remove weapons

Legislation allowing employers, co-workers and school officials to seek a gun violence restraining order is set to take effect Tuesday.

The California Red Flag Gun law, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, expands the number and types of poeple who can seek a court order that temporarily takes guns out of the hands of someone at risk of harming themselves or others.

Ting said that while current law allows family members and law enforcement to petition for the restraining orders, he still saw an uptick of gun violence in schools and the workplace. He hopes this latest expansion introduces more people in the community to the harm reduction tool.

“For me, it made sense to build on the work of some of my colleagues who created [the] Gun Violence Restraining Order and to really expand it and make sure that teachers, principles, co-workers and employers could actually do something,” said Ting. “Quite often as we become older, we spend much less time with our families as adults [than with] our co-workers and people we go to school with. So, it made a lot of sense to expand.”

When the restraining orders are ordered by the court, they remain in effect for no more than 21 days. During those 21 days, the court will schedule a hearing to determine whether the order should be extended one year.

According to the 2019 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Vital Statistic Reports, it is estimated that 39,773 people died from gun related injuries in 2017. In the same year, it states that the age-adjusted death rate for firearm-related injuries for the total population increased by 1.7% from 11.8 in 2016 to 12.0.

“Given the expansion […] of these mass shootings all around the country, my daughter would come home and say that her teacher would actually have to explain a lockdown […] [and what to do] in case there was a shooter on campus,” said Ting. “To me, that was the most shocking thing as a father. When you drop off your child at school you assume that the school is safe [and that] the school is a place where your children can learn. You really never think about what might happen if there is a shooter at your school.”

UC Davis School of Medicine released a study in 2019 evaluating the effectiveness of 414 gun violence restraining order cases from 2016 to 2018. Based on the 159 case records received thus far, the study found that as of Aug. 2019, 21 individuals served the orders didn’t carry out their threatened shooting. Also, no other threatened homicides or suicides by the subjects were identified.

The study states that with these findings it still is impossible to know whether violence would have occurred had a restraining order not been issued, nor do the authors claim a relationship between two. However the cases examined suggest, “that this urgent, individualized intervention can play a role in efforts to prevent mass shootings, in health care settings and elsewhere.”

According to Ting, this new expansion is a tool where citizens can be proactive and safely take matters into their own hands if needed.

“Sometimes when you call law enforcement there [already] could be action,” said Ting. “We saw in Thousand Oaks law enforcement came into interaction with this particular individual before they went into [the Borderline Bar and Grill] and shot people. They didn’t issue a Gun Violence Restraining Order[…]and unfortunately because they didn’t that individual[…]murdered a number of people.”

From 2016 to 2019, San Francisco law enforcement issued a total of 12 gun violence restraining orders —three of them were issued for a year and none were requested by family members. Across the bridge, during the same period of time Alameda County law enforcement has issued 31. Ting said the number of gun violence restraining orders distributed in California is upwards of 1,700, with last year being the largest at over 1,000.

“This is a tool for regular people to protect themselves without having to arm themselves. All they need to do is report individuals who they believe shouldn’t have a gun in their possession,” said Ting. “[Again] they have to be a co-worker, employer, teacher or principle. But those people can now […] [in a safe way get] guns out of the hands of the wrong people.”

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