Safe Schools: Fighting gun violence with Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Mar 23, 2018, 10:00 PM | Updated: 11:07 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah searches for solutions to gun violence, special court orders may be one piece in the puzzle to prevent suicides, murders, and mass shootings.

The orders allow law enforcement or family members to ask a judge to take someone’s firearms away if they pose a threat to themselves or others. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, five states have passed versions of these gun violence restraining orders and 23 states have similar bills pending.

Utah State Rep. Steve Handy, R- Layton, proposed similar legislation late in the 2018 legislative session. The bill did not pass out of committee.

Opponents of the measure were concerned about the bill’s due process protections for gun owners and whether the idea was an overall appropriate solution for stopping gun violence. The bill was held for further study.

KSL traveled to San Diego County, California, to see how local authorities are aggressively pursuing these orders to protect citizens.

San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott has given gun violence restraining orders top priority.

“We don’t have to wait for a crime to occur,” said Elliott.

Her office has gotten 15 restraining orders approved since December.

For example, the office obtained a restraining order against an employee of a car dealership. Court records said the man was worried about getting fired and threatened to shoot up the car dealership and the person who fired him.

In another case, the office got a restraining order against a man police said was drunk and shooting his pistol at what he thought were raccoons and rats in his densely populated neighborhood.

Elliott said, “If there are enough indicators that this person could potentially be a danger, if this person continues to possess a gun or have the ability to get custody of a gun, then we can act.”

Before California’s gun violence restraining order law existed, judges could only take away a person’s guns if they had been convicted of either a felony or a domestic violence crime, or been the subject of a domestic violence restraining order.

Now, with the restraining order law, police, family members, or housemates can petition a judge to take someone’s guns away for a year, if they feel the person is a threat to themselves or others. The judge will hold a hearing within three weeks to determine if the one-year restraining order is needed.

Reporter Mark Stevens asked Elliott, “If this were a law in Florida, potentially could it have stopped that shooting?”

Elliot said, “In Florida, there were a lot of indicators, and I’d like to believe in San Diego we would have done something.”

KSL watched a court hearing where Escondido police officer Craig Bond wanted a judge to approve a gun violence restraining order against a man struggling with alcohol addiction, possible PTSD, and thoughts of suicide. Bond told the court this was the second time police had been called to the man’s house.

Bond testified that in June, 2017, the man’s wife called police after he woke her up in the middle of the night and thrust his loaded handgun at her, telling her to hide it from him. When police arrived, the man agreed to let them hold the gun for safekeeping.

Bond said police returned the gun in January when the man asked for it back after completing two months of an alcohol recovery program. The man relapsed on alcohol five days later and again demanded his wife hide the gun, as he became despondent. She did, but called police when the man began demanding the gun back.

Bond told the judge, “I’d hate to see him shoot himself accidentally or kill his wife accidentally.”

Bond works on a special police detail responding to people who are suffering from a mental health crisis. He said these orders are a good tool to have.

“Personally, I’m a second amendment person, I want good people to have access to firearms, but if there is a reason, a compelling reason, if you’re mentally unstable, and you’ve proved that you’re dangerous, we need to put that restriction in place,” said Bond.

The judge agreed with Bond and approved the one-year restraining order.

Bond said, “It’s about public safety, safety of the individual for sure, but the public at large.

The orders represent one piece of the puzzle gaining attention in Utah, and elsewhere, as the nation searches for solutions to mass shootings and gun violence.

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Safe Schools: Fighting gun violence with Extreme Risk Protection Orders