First things first

Afraid someone you know or love will harm themselves or others with a gun? In California, a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) can protect you and the ones you love.

If you know of anyone who poses an immediate danger of gun injury to themselves or to others, call 911. A trained officer will investigate immediately and, if warranted, can petition a judge to obtain an emergency GVRO at any time of the day or night. The emergency GVRO allows the officer to take away any firearms or ammunition the person possesses or has access to and prohibits them from acquiring any more until there is a court hearing. Emergency GVROs have prevented many suicides and saved the lives of many people threatened by boyfriends, ex-spouses, co-workers, classmates and others.

In almost every instance of a mass shooting, the shooter told someone of their intentions. California’s GVRO law is based on a well-established principle: You can always give back a gun, but you cannot give back a life.

“I wish we could have gotten the guns out of their control before somebody got hurt.”

People around this country, this state and even this city find themselves saying that all the time.

They say it because of “family fire,” the accidental shootings with a misused or improperly stored gun in the home that injure or kill 8 children and teens a day.

They say it because of domestic violence, as 52 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner in an average month.

They say it because of suicide incidents, 51 percent of which are by firearm.

They say it because they hear a co-worker or fellow student make a threat.

In 17 states and the District of Columbia, citizens have said “ENOUGH!” to wishing they had had the guns removed before somebody got hurt. They have passed Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws, or “red flag” laws, which we call Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) laws in California.

A GVRO is a civil court order that temporarily prevents someone from possessing, accessing or purchasing firearms and ammunition when the person is at risk of attempting suicide or harming others. Because a GVRO is a civil procedure, the person from whom the firearms are temporarily removed will not have a criminal record — unless they violate the judge’s order.

Often, family members do not know how to go about removing the guns or are afraid to do so, particularly if the person has dementia or PTSD, or is experiencing depression or a temporary mental health crisis. When family or co-workers inform the police of their fear of an immediate threat, a GVRO allows the San Diego Police Department to remove firearms temporarily, when warranted. A GVRO provides an opportunity to get care for the person at risk (known as the “respondent”) and takes away the fear that possession of the gun could lead to serious injury or death.

Who can request a gun violence restraining order?

Law enforcement, family and household members can request a GVRO in San Diego. That includes spouses, parents, grandparents, children, stepparents, stepchildren, domestic partners, siblings, and roommates and persons who have regularly resided in the last six months on the same property as the respondent.

I am a family or household member. How do I request a GVRO?

  1. If you are afraid and you believe that somebody in your family or household poses an immediate danger of injury from firearms to themselves, to you or to others, call 911. A police officer can obtain an Emergency GVRO 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The GVRO empowers the officer to remove the guns and ammunition.
  2. If you live in the city of San Diego and there is no immediate danger of injury, call the SDPD at 619-531-2000. A police officer can obtain a Temporary GVRO at any time of the day or night.
  3. Go to a local police station and ask for assistance in obtaining a GVRO.

Do I have to go through the police to get a GVRO? Are there other ways?

There are other ways to request a GVRO, such as with the help of an attorney. In San Diego, however, there are advantages to working with law enforcement officers:

  1. They are experts in handling dangerous situations and people with firearms; private citizens are not. Once a petition for a Temporary GVRO is granted, it must be served on the respondent. When police officers serve the order, they immediately seize all firearms and ammunition. But when the order is served by a private citizen, the respondent has 24 hours to comply, either by taking his guns and ammunition to the police or by storing them with a gun dealer and providing proof to the court. A lot can happen in those 24 hours, including an attack on the threatened party or the stashing of guns with friends for later use.
  2. Evidence that will hold up in court is very important. Police officers know how to gather evidence that the respondent is a threat to him-/herself or others. Most private citizens do not have that expertise.
  3. Working through the San Diego Police Department is free; hiring a private attorney is not.

After the respondent is served and the firearms are removed, what happens?

In San Diego, the initial GVRO lasts 21 days, during which time a hearing occurs. If the respondent wishes to contest the order, he or she must attend. At the hearing, the judge will hear evidence about whether the possession of guns by the respondent poses a danger to him-/herself or others, and decide whether to continue or cancel the temporary order. If the judge decides to continue the temporary order, the GVRO will last up to one year.

Are GVROs “No Contact” orders?

No, GVROs do not prevent the respondent from having contact with you, your children, your family members or others who live with you. And they can’t force the respondent to move out of your home. For more information about other types of restraining orders, including those for domestic violence, civil harassment, elder or dependent adult abuse and workplace violence, visit: www.courts.ca.gov/1260.htm.

Where can I get more information on obtaining a GVRO?

Visit Speak for Safety. You’ll find an entire website for the kinds of people who ask questions about having guns removed before somebody gets hurt or killed:

  • Family and household
  • Health care providers
  • Veterans
  • Eldercare providers
  • Fiduciaries
  • Public health
  • Attorneys
  • Law enforcement

GVRO laws are relatively recent in California, and not everyone knows how they work. If you need help from somebody unfamiliar with GVROs, direct them to Speak for Safety for more information.

Do GVROs really work?

Yes. In 2019 alone, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, with significant support from the San Diego Police Department, obtained GVROs against 200 individuals who posed a threat to themselves or others.

Obtaining a GVRO requires effort and, in some cases, courage.

But it can mean the difference between “I wish we could have gotten the guns out of their control before somebody got hurt” and “I’m so glad we got the guns out of their control before somebody got hurt.”

John White is a volunteer with San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention.

Photo credit: Lisa Roe

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