After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, a piece in National Review titled “A Gun-Control Measure Conservatives Should Consider,” relating to Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVRO’s) generated a lot of discussion.
We all can agree that people like the Parkland shooter, the Pulse nightclub shooter, and the UC Santa Barbara shooter shouldn’t have had access to guns. We can all agree that we never again want to be confronted with the news of another massacre like Sandy Hook, Parkland, or San Bernardino, or to have our children be forced to grapple with a horrific, war-like experience in what is supposed to be a safe place.
So, it would seem reasonable to consider a policy idea that could potentially take guns away from the people who shouldn’t have them while not infringing on the rights of sane, law-abiding citizens. Right?
If you’re not familiar with a GVRO law, in theory such a law would allow people (either law enforcement officers or close family members) to ask the court to take away weapons from a person they believe to be at risk of harming themselves or others for a short period of time and place them on a firearms “do not sell” list for the same period. A hearing would be held (possibly ex parte) at which competent evidence would illustrate the Respondent’s potential for violence. If the judge agreed, the GVRO would be issued.
Having spent hundreds of hours over the last two years reading proposed GVRO legislation from numerous states, I can tell you that in practice GVRO laws look nothing like that.
David French, the National Review author, described what this Unicorn GVRO would look like.
“A well-crafted GVRO should contain the following elements:
1. It should limit those who have standing to seek the order to a narrowly defined class of people (close relatives, those living with the respondent;
2. It should require petitioners to come forward with clear, convincing, admissible evidence that the respondent is a significant danger to himself or others;
3. It should grant the respondent an opportunity to contest the claims against him;
4. In the event of an emergency, ex parte order (an order granted before the respondent can contest the claims), a full hearing should be scheduled quickly — preferably within 72 hours; and
5. The order should lapse after a defined period of time unless petitioners can come forward with clear and convincing evidence that it should remain in place.”
As I mentioned previously, I’ve read a number of these bills (some of which failed, and some of which have been signed into law) and I’m fairly certain a statute with such parameters has never been proposed or enacted. This type of policy is the top goal of Everytown and Moms Demand because they can message it as, “We just want to be sure people who are dangerous don’t have guns” while packing the actual legislation with constitutionally questionable provisions.
- Length of Order: Unless the Respondent appeals within 30 days of the issuance, the order is in effect for a full year.
- Different evidentiary standards: The Petitioner must prove their initial ex parte case by “clear and convincing evidence,” the Oregon Rules of Evidence control admission of evidence in an appeal or request for early termination.
- Petitioner standing: Includes only first-degree relatives, but also includes “intimate partner” or anyone living in the same household. There’s no definition of intimate partner, so could someone’s disgruntled one-night stand apply for one of these? (Yes, that’s rhetorical.)
One of the most puzzling aspects of Oregon’s law is that testimony from a mental health professional can be admitted during a hearing (either initial, appeal, or termination), but “The court may not include in the findings any mental health diagnosis or any connection between the risk presented by the respondent and mental illness.” Say what?
Nevada’s proposed law (which failed, thank goodness) would have allowed even people who ever acted as a “high-risk individual’s” guardian to apply for a GVRO and would have allowed tactical units to confiscate a Respondent’s firearms.
In addition, GVRO’s don’t provide for mental health evaluation, assessment, or treatment. If GVRO’s are sought for people who have given so many warning signs of potential violence that a court order taking away their firearms seems to be a good idea, wouldn’t it be a good idea to also require the Respondent to participate in a mental health evaluation?
It really doesn’t seem like a good idea to send armed law enforcement agents, unannounced, to the home of an armed unstable person with the purpose of taking their guns away, and then just leave without having a mechanism for dealing with the underlying cause. If someone is bent on violence, they can accomplish it in a number of ways even without access to a gun.
And what if a jilted lover or a pissed-off relative decide to file for one of these just to harass or abuse someone? There are zero to minimal penalties for this in existing GVRO statutes.
So let’s add a few requirements to French’s list:
- Recommendations/requirements for treatment or intervention if a judge decides to grant the order
- Stiff penalties for petitioners who abuse the process or use it for retaliation
While GVRO’s seem like a not-so-bad idea in theory, the reality is much, much different. If you see one of these bills proposed in your state, read the entire bill and get involved in the debate. Firearms Policy Coalition does a great job of analyzing these bills and informing people so they can take quick action.
And, let’s consider another policy that could help us, and our children, feel a little safer. Let’s not make people who are properly trained and permitted to carry a gun disarm themselves before entering school grounds.
Follow Jennifer Van Laar on Twitter: @jenvanlaar