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California’s Red Flag Laws

With the alarming rise in mass shootings across the United States, Many states, including California, seek to address these devastating incidents of gun violence before they happen. The state’s “Red Flag Laws” are important legislative measures allowing gun violence restraining orders against individuals who’ve been deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Governor Gavin Newsom remarked that the state seeks to make gun violence in California “the exception, rather than the rule.” The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services has reached out to communities across the state to expand education on preventing firearm violence through proactive intervention, including through red flag laws.

What Are “Red Flag Laws?”

Research shows that 80% of those who commit either suicide or mass shootings make their plans known to family, and friends, or on social media. Red flag laws are gun-violence restraining orders(GVRO)—sometimes called gun confiscation laws. These laws allow ordinary citizens to step in and take action if they feel someone they are close to is at risk of causing themselves or others harm. The GVRO temporarily removes firearms and ammunition from someone who shows clear signs that they are a danger to themselves or to others.

A judge grants a gun violence restraining order against the individual at risk of committing a violent act and the police enforce the order by removing any guns and ammunition from the subject’s possession and/or preventing them from purchasing firearms, ammo, or magazines. The order also prevents the person from lawfully receiving a firearm or ammunition as a gift.

Who Can Ask for a Red Flag Restraining Order?

In order to prevent the misuse of red flag laws—such as a neighbor with a grudge using the law for revenge—only specific people can ask for a GVRO in California if they have reason to suspect someone may commit violence against others or against themself. These include:

  • A law enforcement officer
  • An immediate family member including a spouse, parent, child, grandparent, or anyone living in the same household as the at-risk individual, or who lived with them within the past 6 months
  • A boyfriend or girlfriend
  • The individual’s employer
  • A coworker in regular contact with the individual for at least a year (with the employer’s permission)
  • A teacher or school employee who has had regular contact with the individual for at least six months (With permission from a supervisor or school administrator)

The person who suspects a family member, employee, coworker, or student of being a gun-violence risk must request the GVRO from a judge through an ex-parte petition. The judge then reviews the testimony and evidence and makes a decision to approve the request or deny it.

What If Someone Files a GVRO Against Me?

If a judge has approved a gun violence restraining order against you, you must comply with the order or risk arrest. You’ll also have a court date indicated in the papers served to you. It’s essential to appear in court—with an experienced attorney—to help you understand your options for responding to the order. An attorney can protect your right to due process.

A person under a gun-violence restriction order has the right to have the court review their case every 5 years.