Team 10: The City Attorney's office effort to obtain gun violence restraining orders

25 firearms restraining orders issued this year
Posted at 1:15 PM, May 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-30 19:15:11-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - It is an effort to remove guns from dangerous people and an aggressive strategy by the City Attorney's office to implement a law that has been in place since 2016. Since the beginning of the year, the City Attorney’s office obtained25 gun restraining orders, affecting teenagers to senior citizens.


“I think we have opened people's eyes to the availability of a tool that works,” said City Attorney Mara Elliott. “I think we all recognize that there are some people that should not have a gun or access to a gun.”


It's a push to use a law Elliott said is underutilized. Now, she's training law enforcement to use it more.


These civil restraining orders prohibit someone from having a gun or ammunition. Law enforcement or close family members can request it if they're afraid someone will hurt themselves or others. A temporary order is issued until a hearing for a permanent one takes place.


“It's not the city attorney or the police department making the determination... ultimately it's somebody that's got no horse in the race... a judge,” Elliott said.


This law came after a 2014 murder spree near Santa Barbara. Elliot Rodger stabbed three young men to death, then shot and killed three others. His family reported mental health concerns before the shooting.


“In the past, we had to wait for a tragedy. We don't have to wait anymore,” Mara Elliott said.


The City Attorney's office represents law enforcement in court.


Those with these restraining orders range in age from 19 to 81. All were men, except one. About a quarter involved were either current or former military. A City Attorney spokesperson said these numbers do not include minors that were connected to school shooting threats.


Team 10 spoke to one man who received a restraining order against him. He agreed to talk to 10News if he was not identified. According to the man, a fight with his wife was the catalyst for the restraining order. He claimed that he did not threaten his wife.


“No, we never had a violent thing. Just words,” the man said.


It was a different story in the court petition. It said his wife was afraid and that the 81-year-old threatened “to shoot her” and the neighbor. His son, according to documents, was worried his parents were losing their sanity. It also showed he was arrested several years ago for domestic violence, but the charges were dropped. Still, he called the restraining order against him unfair.


“I think every case is different. It depends on people you’re dealing with,” he said, calling himself a safe gun owner.


That man’s guns are at the San Diego Police Department. Under this law, guns are surrendered to law enforcement. An individual could also store them or sell them to a licensed firearms dealer. A permanent restraining order lasts a year. It expires unless someone seeks an extension.


“We’ve done a lot to try and calm the nerves of those concerned about their Second Amendment rights,” Elliott said.


“Conceptually, the idea of taking firearms from criminals or people that are mentally unfit is something we stand behind,” said Michael Schwartz with the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC.


However, he still had concerns after meeting with the City Attorney.


“If they've already broken the law, then we can take firearms from criminals or people that are mentally unfit. If they haven't broken the law, then why are we taking firearms from them?” Schwartz asked. He is also concerned about the potential for abuse of this law.


The City Attorney's office said orders are issued when it’s not clear when or if a person will be charged or someone hasn't been convicted yet and the public needs protection.


“I'm hoping that it makes people feel safer and it saves lives and I'm convinced we've done that,” Elliott said.


Elliott said it is still too early to determine any kind of trend of those served with a restraining order. There is a proposal right now to expand this law, allowing co-workers and school employees to request these types of restraining orders. That is heading to the Senate.