POLITICS
05/22/2018 06:24 pm ET

California Moves To Let Schools, Co-workers 'Red Flag' Dangerous Gun Owners

The bill would expand the list of those who can petition to take away firearms beyond family, roommates and police.
Students in Los Angeles protest against gun violence during the National School Walkout on April 20.
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Students in Los Angeles protest against gun violence during the National School Walkout on April 20.

Lawmakers in the California Assembly voted Monday to advance a bill that would authorize employers, co-workers and school personnel to request the temporary confiscation of guns from individuals determined to pose a danger to themselves or others.

The legislation, AB 2888, would build on California’s existing “red flag” law, passed in 2014 following a deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista. The 22-year-old gunman in that case had reportedly exhibited a number of warning signs before killing six people, and then himself, in the rampage.

The current red flag law gives family members, roommates and law enforcement officers the power to petition the court to remove firearms from individuals who have displayed dangerous behavior. Judges then hold a hearing to determine whether to order the gun owner to surrender their firearms and stay away from all guns, typically for a year, although the restraining orders can be extended beyond that based on additional evidence.

The new bill would expand the list of people who can file for such restraining orders to include a subject’s employer and co-workers and the staff of a high school or college that the person has attended in the last six months.

“We’re grappling with this issue of gun violence as a nation,” bill sponsor Assemblyman Phil Ting (D) told HuffPost. “I’ve never said this is a panacea, but it’s just one of many solutions we have to offer.”

The state’s courts have issued around 200 restraining orders to prevent gun violence since the original law went into effect in 2016, according to Ting. He said his bill would provide additional opportunities to catch troubling behavior.

“Once you move away from home and you’re an adult, you may not spend time with your family,” said Ting. “You may not have much interaction with law enforcement, but chances are if you’re working, you see your co-workers every day for eight-plus hours a day, and you’re with them not just in the work environment but socially.”

Ting pointed to the February massacre in Parkland, Florida, as a case in which a red flag law ― and specifically this sort of broader statute ― might have been able to save lives. Although the suspect in that shooting, a 19-year-old former student at the high school, had attracted the attention of local authorities on numerous occasions before his attack, school staff had also reported concerning behavior as far back as 2016. Florida is among the nine states with a red flag law and one of the four to have ushered through legislation since the Parkland shooting.

In 2016, Ting filed a similar bill to broaden California’s red flag law, following the mass shooting in San Bernardino, which began at an office holiday party. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) ultimately vetoed the legislation, calling it “premature to enact a further expansion” even as the initial law was just going into effect.

A year later, Ting’s San Francisco area district faced its own mass shooting when a disgruntled UPS employee walked into his workplace and fatally shot three colleagues, before killing himself.

When it comes to school safety specifically, restraining orders aimed at stopping gun violence are only part of the equation, said Amanda Wilcox, legislative chair of the California chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. She noted a California law that holds parents criminally liable if they leave their gun where a child can access it and mentioned other resources, like the Brady campaign’s Speak Up hotline, that allow students to anonymously report violent threats made by their peers.

“Practices and law and policies that make homes safer would also keep schools safer,” she told HuffPost.

Wilcox said she supports Ting’s bill and suggested that the relatively few restraining orders issued in the past two years under the original law show that it isn’t being overused, as opponents argued it would be.

“The standards of proof are high in the law,” she said. “It probably needs to be used more, but also under the law it’s supposed to be a last resort if there’s not another way to remove the guns.”

With more time to educate Californians on how the red-flag process works, Wilcox said she’s hopeful these restraining orders will be able to keep more guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.

“What I don’t want is a case where it could have been used and should have been used and wasn’t, and someone is dead because of that,” she said.

AB 2888 passed in a 48-25 vote largely along party lines. The state Senate is expected to consider the bill in the coming weeks.

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