A Gun Restraining Order

Jacob Sullum disapproves of a new California law, according to which a cop or family member “can seek a ‘gun violence restraining order’ that prohibits an individual from possessing firearms and authorizes police to seize any he currently owns”:

If the applicant is a cop, he must have “reasonable cause” to believe “the subject of the petition poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury” to himself or someone else. If the applicant is a relative or roommate, he must show there is a “substantial likelihood” that “the subject of the petition poses a significant danger, in the near future, of personal injury” to himself or someone else. Either standard suffices to take away someone’s right to arms for three weeks, after which he has an opportunity for a hearing where the petitioner has to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that he “poses a significant danger of personal injury” to himself or others. If the judge decides that test has been met, he issues a one-year restraining order than can be renewed annually.

Bloomberg View’s editors, meanwhile, welcome the reform:

The law enables people to temporarily prevent mentally disturbed family members from possessing or purchasing guns. A so-called gun-violence restraining order, akin to the one used to obtain restraining orders in domestic violence cases, will allow police to search for and seize firearms.

The impetus for the law, which also allows law-enforcement officials to ask for a restraining order, was the shooting in May in which a mentally disturbed man killed six and wounded a dozen near the University of California at Santa Barbara. Although the killer’s parents had expressed grave concerns about his mental state, nothing prevented him from purchasing guns.

But Sullum doubts the law would have prevented that shooting:

[A]s far as I know no one in his family was aware that he owned guns. In a case with different facts, of course, it is conceivable that one of these new restraining orders might stop a would-be mass murderer. But it’s more likely this law will become a tool of meddling and harassment that mostly affects people with no homicidal intent.

Patrick Kulp compares the law to others across the country:

Under current California law, officers are only allowed to confiscate weapons if their owner has been convicted of a violent crime, deemed mentally unstable or is subject to a restraining order for domestic violence. Connecticut, Indiana and Texas all have laws in place that allow police to seize firearms with a judge’s order, but California is the first state to extend this right to immediate family members.