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California's Gun Violence Restraining Orders Are Rising. A Court Case Could Doom Them

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Attorney General of California Rob Banta speaks during a remembrance event to pay tribute to George Floyd held by the Oakland NAACP at Youth UpRising in Oakland on May 25, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Ahead of a major U.S. Supreme Court decision that could reshape governments’ ability to control residents’ access to firearms, California Attorney General Rob Bonta had a clear message: “Protective orders save lives.”

He spoke Thursday at a press conference in Sacramento to tout a newly released report, which showed the number of protective orders issued in California to limit access to firearms for people deemed dangerous increased by 20% between 2020 and 2023.

California has nine types of protective orders, including domestic violence, elder violence, civil harassment, workplace violence and postsecondary school violence restraining orders. They allow different groups of people to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from a person’s home and bar them from buying new ones if that person presents a danger to others.

The orders can range from one day to several years.


However, whether the state will continue to be allowed to limit someone’s access to firearms when these orders are in place depends largely on the Supreme Court. The justices are expected to issue a ruling this month or next in United States v. Rahimi, a case that challenges the constitutionality of barring people with a domestic violence restraining order from possessing firearms.

Sam Paredes, the executive director of the advocacy organization Gun Owners of California, said he expects the court will issue a ruling that favors gun owners’ rights.

“I’m confident that we’re going to get a far-ranging decision that will impact gun violence restraining orders or protective orders,” he said, “and maybe even other aspects of the Second Amendment jurisprudence.”

Paredes took issue with Bonta’s characterization that the prevention orders stop gun deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California’s firearm mortality rate increased by 16% between 2014 and 2022, from 7.4 deaths per 100,000 residents to 8.6 deaths. California’s law legalizing gun violence restraining orders — the first of its kind in the country — went into effect in 2016.

Parades said there’s no evidence the gun violence restraining orders, or any prevention orders, have had any effect on reducing gun deaths.

“It’s not possible for them to prove that,” he said. “The fact that they’ve issued these protective orders does not mean that they have prevented something from happening.”

The orders in and of themselves are no panacea to stop all gun deaths, Bonta said. Rather, it is the combination of the orders with other California laws that together have reduced gun deaths in the state.

He noted that over the past 30 years, California went from being a state with one of the nation’s highest firearm mortality rates to the seventh lowest.

“We know that this is tragic, shameful, unacceptable and also uniquely American,” Bonta said. “California shows it doesn’t have to be this way. It can be different. We can chart and go down a different pathway. If we make different decisions, if we take different actions, if we make different choices.”

Thursday’s report came on the heels of a legal victory for Bonta’s office. Earlier this week, his office announced it had settled a lawsuit against three ghost gun manufacturers, barring the companies from producing or selling the kits in the state. The kits are used to assemble weapons at home and are typically sold without serial numbers or background checks.

According to California’s Department of Justice, the number of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement spiked dramatically in recent years, from 26 in 2015 to more than 12,300 in 2021.

The state’s lawsuit alleged three companies sold the kits in California without complying with state law, including failing to perform background checks and other recordkeeping requirements. The companies — MDX Corporation; Blackhawk Manufacturing; and GS Performance LLC or Glockstore — admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay fines ranging from $55,000 to $500,000.

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