Family members who fear a relative may hurt themselves — or another person — have an option available that's rarely used and which the general public may not even know about.
Even if a crime hasn't been committed, a family member can petition a court for a gun violence restraining order under a law passed in 2015.
If a judge grants a temporary gun violence restraining order, the person against whom the order was sought will be prohibited from possessing a firearm until his or her court hearing — typically 21 days. Once the restraining order is granted, law enforcement can temporarily remove the guns.
If at the hearing the judge then grants the request for the order, the prohibition is extended for a year.
Although passed into law three years ago, there have been relatively few orders granted statewide, according to an article in The Sacramento Bee citing statistics from the California Department of Justice.
The Bee, citing those statistics, reported that state courts ordered people to temporarily give up their guns 86 times in 2016 and 104 times in 2017 in response to the orders. Of those, two were issued in Kern County.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he gets calls all the time asking about gun restraining orders. But he said there needs to be something more than just concern on a person's part to take away someone's guns.
A judge needs to sign off on them, and there has to be some kind of action for which the person is deemed a threat.
Among the factors a judge examines is if the person has recently made a threat or carried out a violent act against another person or himself; if there's a pattern of violent threats or acts within the past year; and if there is evidence of recent purchases of firearms, ammunition or other deadly weapons.
The general public likely isn't aware they can seek a gun violence restraining order, said Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman. But typically there's some other factor in play — often a criminal case — that leads a person not to request one because the charged person has already been ordered to turn over their firearms.
For example, people convicted of felonies have to turn over their firearms and are prohibited from owning them for the rest of their lives. Also, certain misdemeanor convictions stipulate a person can't own a gun for 10 years.
There's currently a push to expand gun violence restraining orders in California.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, has reintroduced legislation "to expand the law by adding employers, co-workers, high school and college staff, and mental health workers to the list of individuals who could seek gun violence restraining orders," according to a February article in The Sacramento Bee.