Criminal Justice

Can a gun-violence restraining order curb gun violence? California lawmakers back the idea


Corrected: The debate on how to stop mass killings is back on center stage after the slayings of six college students in California last Friday.

Three California lawmakers announced Tuesday they have introduced legislation allowing for “gun violence restraining orders,” a proposal advocated by a professor in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. If the bill passes, California would become the first state in the nation with such a system, an expert tells the Los Angeles Times.

The bill would give family members and friends the ability to notify police when they believe individuals are a threat to themselves or others. Police could then seek a restraining order that bans such people from possessing or buying a gun.

Renee Binder, director of the psychiatry and law program at the University of California-San Francisco, explained the idea in her article Monday. She notes that before the California shootings, the mother of alleged shooter Elliot Rodger “had voiced concerns that brought sheriff’s deputies to her son’s apartment in late April. As that shows far too well, family members often know best when a loved one is in crisis, and in most cases want to help them. But that takes time, and having easy access to a gun—or multiple guns, in the Isla Vista case—during a potentially dangerous period increases an individual’s ability to do harm.”

The restraining order would allow a judge to temporarily stop an individual from possessing or buying a gun, Binder said. The order would have to be reassessed after a short period to allow restoration of gun rights when an individual is no longer a danger to himself or others.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog noted Binder’s proposal and that of another academic, University of Washington law professor Mary Fan.

In an article (PDF) slated for publication in the Indiana Law Journal, Fan says domestic violence victims should be encouraged to seek restraining orders when police are called to the scene. She notes studies finding that intimate partner conflict and domestic violence history are major risk factors for homicide-suicides.

“Though the paradigm of danger in current gun restriction debates is a heavily armed mentally ill stranger hunting in public, most firearms deaths are perpetrated at home by people the victim knows,” Fan writes.

First paragraph corrected on May 28 to state that six people were slain in California on Friday.

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