(CN) – California lawmakers advanced a bill Tuesday to allow judges to restrict someone’s access to guns if they pose a danger to themselves or others, despite concerns from community groups that the bill may violate civil rights.
Under current law, police officers or the immediate family members of someone who poses a threat can petition a court to issue a gun violence restraining order which, if granted, requires the gun owner to surrender all weapons and ammunition for 21 days.
The order, which can be extended up to a year after a court hearing, does not require the restrained person to stay away from family members or move out of their house.
But critics say the current law is underutilized by police officers and limits petitions by mental health professionals and co-workers familiar with the person who is deemed a threat.
The California Senate Public Safety Committee discussed a host of bills Tuesday related to the restraining orders.
Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, said her bill Assembly Bill 12 would extend orders from one year to five and grant simultaneous approval of a search warrant for firearms and ammunition when a gun violence restraining order is issued.
Irwin’s bill does not include a grace period, so gun owners wouldn’t be able to hide, sell or trade their weapons instead of surrendering them to police.
AB 12 also honors the 12 victims of the 2018 mass shooting at Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, California, Irwin added.
The shooting at the Western-style bar – which included victims who survived the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas – reinvigorated calls for tougher gun laws in the Golden State.
National Rifle Association representative Daniel Reid told the committee that AB12 should be voted down since it would restrict someone’s access to a gun for up to five years based on “third-party allegations” and without a criminal conviction or finding of mental illness.
“The bill lacks clear guidance on when a 5-year gun violence restraining order will go into effect,” Reid said. “We are talking about constitutional rights.”
Despite Reid’s concerns, the committee approved the bill, 5-1. It next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The committee also took up Assembly Bill 61 by Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, which would add school workers, employers and co-workers to the list of people who can ask a judge to temporarily take away someone’s access to weapons.
Ting, who has seen previous versions of the bill vetoed by former California Governor Jerry Brown, said the expansion is needed since schools have increasingly become the sites of mass shootings.
American Civil Liberties Union representative Cathy Shur told the committee the restraining orders may be used unlawfully by co-workers to retaliate against someone, or may be filed out of racial bias.
“These are people who don’t have the opportunity to defend themselves,” Shur said. “These are folks not accused of making criminal threats and may not even have firearms. We are concerned about cops showing up at someone’s door expecting that person to be armed.”
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, asked Ting how officials would ensure the petitions wouldn’t be abused.
Ting said that because gun violence restraining orders were only issued 614 times between 2016 and 2018, concerns about abuse aren’t merited.
“The main argument against this was that we would see abuse, or have thousands of guns taken away,” Ting told the committee. “Most places in the state haven’t implemented policies yet.”
The committee’s vote on AB 61 was not finalized by press time.
Both bills have already been approved by the Assembly and are working their way through Senate committees. All bills must be on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk by Sept. 13.
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