Assault weapons, multiple high-capacity magazines, pistols, and other weapons seized from the home of homicide suspect Vu Thai, who was arrested June 5, 2022, in connection with a fatal shooting in San Jose. Photo courtesy of the San Jose Police Department via AP
This is CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher, filling in for Emily and hoping she isn’t reading this and is instead enjoying her hard-earned vacation.
It happens almost every time there’s a new mass shooting.
After Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas and Parkland, Florida and Highland Park, Illinois the question comes up again and again: How can we stop these people from having guns in the first place?
“Red flag” laws, which make it easier for authorities to remove firearms from those deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others, have become an increasingly common answer to that question.
But even when states put these laws on the books, they’re often ignored by local law enforcement.
California’s biggest exception: San Diego.
CalMatters politics reporter Alexei Koseff spent some time with Deputy City Attorney Jeff Booker, who oversees San Diego’s gun violence restraining order unit, to learn how the city became a model for implementing a law that many California gun violence researchers point to as one of the state’s most vital.
Since 2017, San Diego’s City Attorney’s office has successfully overseen the seizure of more than 1,600 firearms from 865 people. That’s turned Booker’s small unit into a go-to resource for agencies outside the city looking to do the same. More than 100 have called his office for advice since January alone.
Booker, on the people whose arms are confiscated: “They’re not all bad people or criminals…Some of them are just going through a period of crisis.”
California has a long way to go.
Even before the state introduced its current “red flag” law in 2016, the state created a database of “armed and prohibited persons” — people who legally purchased a firearm but were later legally disqualified from having one, often after committing a violent crime.
As CalMatters has extensively reported, the state, which has among the toughest gun laws in the country, has a lousy track record of actually going out and getting those guns. The consequences of that failure can be fatal.
Earlier this summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom launched an $11 million campaign to promote the use of gun violence restraining orders to law enforcement, domestic violence survivor support organizations and other community groups.
On Friday, the administration dropped the latest from the campaign: In a message to the parents of school-aged children released on Friday, the Office of Emergency Services touted these red flag orders as “a tool that could prevent school shootings and gun suicides among youth, teens and families.”