My turn: We can prevent gun violence. Here’s one way

By Mara W. Elliott, Special to CALmatters

Mass shootings and everyday gun violence have become so commonplace in America that many people are losing hope that we can stop the senseless loss of innocent lives.

But in collaboration with the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego City Attorney’s office that I lead is working to restore that hope by using a tool – the gun violence restraining order — that prevents gun violence when red flags appear.

My office has obtained more than 80 gun violence restraining orders this year, leading to the surrender of more than a dozen assault weapons, 200 other firearms, and 80,000 rounds of ammunition.

In each case, we presented a Superior Court judge with clear and convincing evidence–warning signs of violence that could not be ignored. Judges, in turn, issued the orders preventing people who posed a clear threat to themselves or others from possessing, accessing or purchasing firearms or ammunition.

Some gun violence restraining orders respondents had made specific threats to kill. Others threatened suicide. Many used their firearms recklessly because of addiction or mental health issues.

I felt safe when I was a student at UC Santa Barbara. And so the 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista hit especially close me. The Legislature that year responded by approving a bill creating gun violence restraining orders. Such an order could have prevented the deaths in Isla Vista and in many other places.

When I became San Diego City Attorney in 2016, I made the use of gun violence restraining orders a high priority.

Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco noticed our success and placed $50,000 in the 2018-19 budget to help us train other law enforcement agencies. Today we are providing training in Anaheim, after doing so in San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

Here are examples of how we’ve used gun violence restraining orders to prevent predictable tragedies:

  • A car dealership employee made disturbing comments to his co-workers, praising the Las Vegas mass shooter for setting a modern record for killing, fantasizing about shooting up a mosque, and vowing to return to work with a gun if he were fired. My office obtained a GVRO and the man surrendered a semi-automatic rifle with significant killing capability.
  • After a student discussed conducting a school shooting on social media, police found disturbing images on his social media, including racist posts and photos of him shooting an AK-47 rifle, and learned he had killed small animals on campus. Our gun violence restraining order prevents the student from accessing firearms.
  • A wife heard her husband cocking a pistol in their bathroom during an argument over their divorce and hid the pistol the next morning. The husband returned two days later and said he was going to shoot her and their infant child. Our gun violence restraining order allowed police to confiscate the pistol.
  • A man made a suicide threat to his fiancé and later assaulted his elderly father for refusing to hand over his firearms. Police arrested him and he threatened to shoot a police officer on his release. With our gun violence restraining order, police confiscated seven guns, including three AR-15 rifles.
  • A man believed to be in the early stages of dementia threatened to shoot his wife and a neighbor because he erroneously believed they were having an affair. His 75-year-old wife escaped the house, barefoot, by climbing over a fence and running through a cactus garden. We obtained a gun violence restraining order and police seized a rifle and two pistols.

As the mother of young children, I was forever changed by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Now, as San Diego City Attorney, I am using the law to protect other mothers’ children, and show other law enforcement how they can do the same.


Mara W. Elliott is San Diego City Attorney, [email protected] She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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