Guest opinion: Enforce laws on guns held by known abusers

The Orange County Register
Guest Editorial


Whatever their views on interpreting the Second Amendment and on the possibilities and limitations of gun control in protecting the public safety, Americans are united in their desire to find workable ways to stem the violence of this current epidemic of mass shootings.

As we noted in this space recently, the best way forward in the current predicament is to intensify the ways that agreed-upon laws regulating firearms already on the books are enforced.

As law enforcement and academic researchers deepen their search for patterns in the makeup of American mass shooters, one common thread running through them — not always, but often enough to make a real difference — is a history of past domestic abuse, of either their children or of spouses and significant others.

In California, for example, as noted in a UC Davis pilot study of the issue, domestic violence offenders with court restraining orders against them must surrender their firearms to a law enforcement agency or sell them to a licensed firearms retailer within 24 hours after the order is served, and file a receipt with the court to document compliance within 48 hours. Since 2007, they also must surrender their firearms immediately if a law enforcement officer makes a demand for them.

Problem is, law enforcement agencies have plenty on their plate dealing with new problems and have had a hard time staffing up to ensure compliance with these laws.

Up in San Mateo County, the Sheriff’s Department has for several years taken an innovative approach to being able to enforce the regulations on domestic abusers. Working with nonprofit agencies such as CORA — Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse — it has secured funding from public and private sources to create a deputy position whose sole function is checking in with people with restraining orders to ensure that they are complying with the law and are not in possession of guns they are not entitled to.

Since 2007, the Sheriff’s Domestic Violence Firearms Compliance Unit has worked collaboratively with the Superior Court of San Mateo County and victims advocacy groups to follow up on court-ordered domestic violence firearm surrender violations to disarm the restrained person and achieve compliance.

Katherine Anderson, a retired Redwood City police officer who now works for CORA, says she saw the benefits of such proactive police work in her own career. “Depending on where we were in the process of investigation, we would ask for that person to be in compliance,” she says. “If they would surrender them voluntarily, we would take them. But then sometimes people would say they didn’t have those weapons anymore, or that they never did,” even when there was evidence — such as with the recent Tehama County shooter, who was a domestic abuser who neighbors said was shooting up the area in the nights before his rampage — that they did. “But if a spouse or someone says they have seen weapons in the house we would have access (for a search) if they have legal standing at the house. … I can’t speak to the mass shootings, but anytime you remove a firearm (from a domestic abuser), it can greatly change the dynamics.”

Such a change in the dynamics is precisely what we need in order to see laws already on the books make a difference. We encourage Southern California law enforcement to create dedicated units aimed at taking guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

— Orange County Register, Nov. 23