By Denise Grimes.
When police officers were dispatched to the home of a 30-year-old resident for a welfare check, they found four firearms in the house — including a semi-automatic assault rifle. The officers went to the home after the man’s father called police following his son posting references to Columbine, knives, guns and chemical weapons on social media. The man, who was intoxicated, told officers he was depressed. During a search, they found other items, including tactical style vests, ammunition, swords and warfare books. His phone had a text message to his mother sent days before that said he felt “like killing children.”
Officers placed the man on a “5150 hold,” finding that he posed a threat to himself and others. He was taken to a mental health facility and officers confiscated his firearms. They also took another, rarely used step to protect public safety: They applied for a Gun Violence Restraining Order.
A GVRO is a preventative tool that allows law enforcement in California to petition a court to order that a subject is prohibited from possessing a firearm. Law enforcement can obtain a temporary emergency order in the field or petition the court (through their city attorney) to issue an ex parte GVRO that is effective for 21 days. The ex parte petition can also be filed by a family member, in addition to law enforcement. After a hearing, the court can issue a permanent order that is effective for one year. A GVRO allows the police to confiscate any firearms that the subject has in his/her possession, owns, or has access to.
To obtain a temporary emergency order, a judge must find that the subject poses an immediate and present danger of causing injury to himself or another by having a firearm in his custody or control and the order is the least restrictive effective means available.
The criteria used by the court for an ex parte GVRO and a permanent GVRO include the following:
1.) recent threat or act of violence toward another or himself/herself within the last 6 months
2.) violation of an existing protective order
3.) conviction of any offense listed in Penal Code 29805
4.) pattern of violence or threats of violence within the last 12 months
5.) unlawful use or brandishing of a firearm
6.) history of physical force or threatened physical force against another
7.) prior felony arrest
8.) documentary evidence of history of use of controlled substance or alcohol
9.) acquisition of firearms, ammunition or other deadly weapons within last 6 months
Police officers seeking a GVRO should use whatever evidence is available to show a judge that the subject is a threat. In addition to researching prior convictions and restraining orders, they should interview whomever they can about the subject’s behavior and activities including — texts, emails and social media posts.
California became the first state in the nation to use GVROs in 2016. The legislation, which followed the 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista, has only been used less than 200 times as of September 2018, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The officers in the California city above, which experienced a mass shooting within its city limits in recent years, were successful in obtaining a GVRO against the man — potentially averting another violent crisis in their community.*
*Note: Author Denise Grimes has successfully obtained several GVROs on behalf of multiple cities.
Denise Grimes is a prosecution counsel at Best Best & Krieger LLP. She works with police departments on gun confiscation matters and gun violence restraining orders and handles criminal and civil municipal code enforcement. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org