Assemblymember Nancy Skinner's office

Bill would allow restrictions on gun owners at risk for violent behavior

on September 25, 2014

A bill to stem gun violence co-authored by California Assemblymember Nancy Skinner is now awaiting action by Governor Jerry Brown. Assembly Bill 1014 would allow for restraining orders to be placed on individuals who are deemed at risk for violent behavior with a firearm.

The legislation was proposed in the wake of the Isla Vista killings that took place near UC Santa Barbara in May. In the aftermath, Skinner of Berkeley, along with Assembly co-authors Das Williams and Hanna-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, drafted the bill with the aim of preventing similar bloodshed. If signed, the bill would extend to the mentally ill restrictions similar to those that prohibit firearms or ammunition possession by people under domestic violence restraining orders.

In Alameda and Contra Costa counties, where gun violence is at the top of the agenda, the bill has met with mingled hope and skepticism. The bill is a “great tool” for deterring gun violence, said Oakland Pastor Billy Dixon Jr., leader of the At Thy Word Ministries and a participant in Ceasefire, a community coalition devoted to getting firearms off the streets. In cases where the courts legally restrain an individual, Dixon said he also supports authorities having the ability “to get every dangerous weapon that you own.”

But others fear the bill’s potential to promote stigma. Dr. Nancy Arvold, a marriage and family therapist in Richmond, expressed concern over whether the bill would promote “stereotypes that demonize individuals with mental illness as being violent.”

The California Police Chiefs Association is supporting the bill “in principle” according to its website. The California Psychiatric Association currently has no official position on the amended legislation. Most major medical associations have avoided taking a position, as have many peace officer advocacy groups that are maintaining official neutrality while awaiting the governor’s decision. Several Republican state legislators voiced opposition to the bill as did gun rights groups in the state.

Recently Governor Brown has signed over 20 gun control bills into law while vetoing fewer than ten. In his veto statement to one bill that expanded the list of prohibited gun buyers to include those charged with driving under the influence, Brown said he was not convinced that it was necessary to ban gun buyers for a non-felony conviction that was non-firearm related.

The language of AB 1014 says that individuals are subject to being restrained by the order “when it is shown that there is a substantial likelihood that the subject of the petition poses a significant danger of harm” to themselves or others. Skinner’s bill would allow officers to seize firearms from a person with a documented violent history, or who has been the subject of alerts to authorities about their potential for harm.

In August, the authors of AB 1014 were joined at a press conference on the lawn of the state capitol by parents of Isla Vista victims, who were shot by an individual whose parents had tried to alert authorities about their son’s state of mind. If AB 1014 had been in effect on May 23, 2014, Skinner said at the conference, warnings by the parents of 22-year-old Elliott Rogers might have enabled police to seize their son’s firearms and ammunition and prohibit him from purchasing more.

The bill provides for more than just the seizure of arms. The law also constructs a critical information thread between the Department of Justice, local courts, and the police regarding the level of threat that an individual represents. The bill provides for the use of mental health information that would be provided to the Justice Department to determine the eligibility of a person to acquire firearms who is the “subject of a petition for the issuance of a gun violence restraining order,” or GVRO.

From Skinner’s office in Sacramento, an aide said in a phone interview that what happened on Isla Vista, after the local Santa Barbara area authorities were alerted to the parents’ concerns, could have been averted. The young man was able to convince officers standing outside his front door that he was recovering from a breakup and was not a potential threat, Skinner’s aide said. If the local officers had been equipped with the information from his parents and were able to get a local Superior Court judge to issue a GVRO, his guns might have been in police custody, preventing the shooting spree.

Currently federal law bars gun ownership or possession by individuals that have “been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution.” AB 1014 would add provisions that expand the federal and state judicial orders that can be requested without a person’s knowledge.

In the chain of events leading up to a restraining order, there isn’t a requirement to consult with a mental health professional regarding the case. Under the 5150 Code in California, dealing with involuntary confinement of mentally ill persons,there is language allowing AB 1014 to streamline the handling of critical information between authorities, Skinner’s aide said.

If signed into law, AB 1014 would become effective in January 2016 — after Assemblymember Skinner is termed out of office.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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