Isla Vista massacre: Does California need a 'gun violence restraining order' law?

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Among the California legislature's reactions to last month’s murder rampage in Isla Vista is a bill that would create a new kind of restraining order for the state: one that would allow anyone to ask a court to remove someone's right to possess a gun based on their mental state.

Some advocates for the mentally ill support the measure, while a gun rights group objects on the grounds that such a law could be abused.

Known as the Gun Violence Restraining Order, AB 1014, co-authored by Assemblymembers Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), would allow any person to petition a court to remove someone’s right to possess a  firearm if it is believed the person in question is a danger to himself or others. 

Texas, Indiana and Connecticut have already embraced similar gun restraining order laws, which represent a "relatively new idea" says Adam Winkler, professor of law at UCLA School of Law and author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America."  

 "They’re not a panacea - they’re not going to stop every mass killing from occurring," Winkler says. "But they can provide a tool for family members and loved ones who see danger to take guns out of someone’s hands."

RELATED: Should deputies have done more to prevent Isla Vista rampage?

Under AB 1014, if a court determined that the person in question poses a danger to himself or to others, it would issue a restraining order and, if necessary, a firearms seizure warrant.   That would then prevent the person from owning, possessing or buying a firearm for up to a year, possibly longer.

The bill does not single out the mentally ill, but rather focuses on the danger any person may pose for any reason. And that has helped earn it support from an unlikely ally: the Los Angeles-based Mental Health Advocacy Services, a non-profit group that promotes the legal rights of those with mental disabilities.

"Studies have shown that a mental health diagnosis itself is not a predictor of dangerousness in the use of firearms and really shouldn’t be the basis in a decision of whether to allow someone to have a firearm or not," says Jim Preis, Advocacy Services' executive director.

Still, some are worried about the potential for abuse. 

"If we’re going to take away someone’s constitutional rights we can only do so if someone has some good reasons and good evidence to back it up,” Winkler says, adding, "We don’t want a system where anyone who doesn’t like someone can make a report and get one of these restraining orders."

RELATED: House Democrats introduce mental health gun bill

That's the concern of one of the bill's opponents: Sam Paredes, executive director of the political action committee, Gun Owners of California

"We have lots of experience with restraining orders that are issued in a similar manner with regards to divorce cases"  that are used simply as a legal "weapon or tool by those who want to cause harm…or discomfort to the subject of their ire," says Paredes.

What’s more, he says, California’s existing gun control laws are already some of the toughest in the nation.

Among them is a law that temporarily revokes the gun rights of a person who has been involuntarily committed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, known as a "5150" after that section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.

But as UCLA’s Winkler points out,   AB 1014 would strengthen government's hand by allowing "family members - who may know better than anyone else  - to take away someone’s guns with the help of a judge." He acknowledges, though, that it's  unclear whether the existence of such a law would have prevented the May 23 Isla Vista slayings that left seven people dead and 13 injured.

 

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