Are ‘red flag’ laws working as intended in California? Here’s what UC Davis researchers found

In the wake of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, lawmakers across the country are debating so-called “red flag” laws — or extreme risk protection orders.These orders exist in 19 states and Washington, D.C.In California, they are known as gun violence restraining orders. A new study from the Violence Prevention Research program at UC Davis examined the first three years of California’s gun violence restraining orders law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.Law enforcement officers filed the vast majority of orders and mass shooting threats made up nearly 30% of the restraining orders. Six of the 58 mass shooting threats involved minors targeting schools. Professor Veronica Pear was the lead author of the study and joined KCRA 3 to talk about what researchers found. Briefly explain what these so-called red flag laws are designed to do.Veronica Pear: “These laws, or restraining orders known as GVROs (gun violence restraining orders), they’re intended to fill a legal gap that we have three here in California and in all states, really. Where someone is identified as making threats either implicitly or explicitly or harming themselves or others, and they have access to a firearm but they’re not prohibited for any other reason. So, they’re intended to remove firearms from and prevent the purchase of firearms for individuals who are particularly high risk of harming themselves or others.” What data did you use to compile the report?Veronica Pear: “What we did was request court documents for all of the GRVO cases that occurred over the first three years of implementation in California, that would be 2016 through 2018, then we abstracted those court records so that we could describe the responding characteristics and the case characteristics.”Your data was published June 2 in Injury Prevention, What were the biggest takeaways?Veronica Pear: “I think the biggest takeaway is that these laws are being used as intended. So, we found that for the most part they’re being used by law enforcement officers in cases of threatened interpersonal harm, that’s when one person is threatening another. And a little bit less often in cases of self-harm, which is I think an area of improvement and that is where we saw the strongest evidence that they work. But we also found that in about 30 percent of cases that these were used to potentially prevent threatened mass shootings.”Was there any of that data that surprised you?Veronica Pear: “Certainly, the high percentage (of cases) that were for these threatened mass shootings was a surprise to me. I was expecting it to be closer to 10 percent based on previous research that we had done also there were a high percentage of individuals who had assault rifles recovered, which was somewhat surprising given that we do have a gun law here in California.”When you think about all of the research that you’ve put into this and you look back at what you did find, would you say in your opinion that the law is working? Or is there room for it to improve and ultimately change?Veronica Pear: “I think there’s always room for improvement. But I think the takeaway from the study is that the law is being used as intended. It seems to me, anecdotally at least, we can’t say causally, but it seems to be preventing firearm violence in cases of potential mass shootings. We’re also linking some of these subjects to mortality data. So we can say as of 2020 when we looked at the mortality data that none of these individuals died by suicide as a result of the order. That provides evidence that these orders are working to prevent firearm suicide as well.”

In the wake of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, lawmakers across the country are debating so-called “red flag” laws — or extreme risk protection orders.

These orders exist in 19 states and Washington, D.C.

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In California, they are known as gun violence restraining orders.

A new study from the Violence Prevention Research program at UC Davis examined the first three years of California’s gun violence restraining orders law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Law enforcement officers filed the vast majority of orders and mass shooting threats made up nearly 30% of the restraining orders.

Six of the 58 mass shooting threats involved minors targeting schools.

Professor Veronica Pear was the lead author of the study and joined KCRA 3 to talk about what researchers found.

Briefly explain what these so-called red flag laws are designed to do.

Veronica Pear: “These laws, or restraining orders known as GVROs (gun violence restraining orders), they’re intended to fill a legal gap that we have three here in California and in all states, really. Where someone is identified as making threats either implicitly or explicitly or harming themselves or others, and they have access to a firearm but they’re not prohibited for any other reason. So, they’re intended to remove firearms from and prevent the purchase of firearms for individuals who are particularly high risk of harming themselves or others.”

What data did you use to compile the report?

Veronica Pear: “What we did was request court documents for all of the GRVO cases that occurred over the first three years of implementation in California, that would be 2016 through 2018, then we abstracted those court records so that we could describe the responding characteristics and the case characteristics.”

Your data was published June 2 in Injury Prevention, What were the biggest takeaways?

Veronica Pear: “I think the biggest takeaway is that these laws are being used as intended. So, we found that for the most part they’re being used by law enforcement officers in cases of threatened interpersonal harm, that’s when one person is threatening another. And a little bit less often in cases of self-harm, which is I think an area of improvement and that is where we saw the strongest evidence that they work. But we also found that in about 30 percent of cases that these were used to potentially prevent threatened mass shootings.”

Was there any of that data that surprised you?

Veronica Pear: “Certainly, the high percentage (of cases) that were for these threatened mass shootings was a surprise to me. I was expecting it to be closer to 10 percent based on previous research that we had done also there were a high percentage of individuals who had assault rifles recovered, which was somewhat surprising given that we do have a gun law here in California.”

When you think about all of the research that you’ve put into this and you look back at what you did find, would you say in your opinion that the law is working? Or is there room for it to improve and ultimately change?

Veronica Pear: “I think there’s always room for improvement. But I think the takeaway from the study is that the law is being used as intended. It seems to me, anecdotally at least, we can’t say causally, but it seems to be preventing firearm violence in cases of potential mass shootings. We’re also linking some of these subjects to mortality data. So we can say as of 2020 when we looked at the mortality data that none of these individuals died by suicide as a result of the order. That provides evidence that these orders are working to prevent firearm suicide as well.”

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