California enacted the nation’s first Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law in 2014.1 (California’s law refers to extreme risk protection orders as “Gun Violence Restraining Orders” or “GVROs”). This law went into effect on January 1, 2016, and has been subsequently amended multiple times.
The extreme risk law in California authorizes law enforcement officers and other eligible petitioners (see below) to file petitions for a civil court order called a GVRO that temporarily suspends a person’s access to firearms when they are found to pose a significant risk of harm to themselves or others by having legal access to firearms or ammunition.2 The person who is the subject of the GVRO petition is called the “respondent.”
California’s law makes the following people eligible to petition a court for a GVRO:
- A law enforcement officer or agency.3
- The respondent’s closefamily members, including but not limited to a spouse, domestic partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild.4 (The law uses the term “immediate family member” but defines this term relatively broadly).
- Some more distantly related family members may also be eligible petitioners if they have had substantial and regular interactions with the respondent for at least one year, including the respondent’s aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, cousin, great grandparent or great grandchild (among others).5
- The respondent’s “roommate,” which is defined to include both current and former co-habitants. More specifically, a person is eligible to file a GVRO petition as a roommate if they regularly reside in the respondent’s household or if they have, within the previous 6 months, regularly resided in the household, and have had substantial and regular interactions with the respondent for at least one year.6
- The respondent’s employer, or a coworker who has had substantial and regular interactions with the respondent for at least one year and who obtains the employer’s approval to file the GVRO petition.7
- An employee or teacher at a secondary or postsecondary school (including high schools and colleges) that the respondent has attended in the last six months, if the employee or teacher has obtained approval from a school administrator or administration staff member with a supervisorial role to file a GVRO petition.8
- A person who has a “dating relationship” with the respondent.9 (See footnote for definition of “dating relationship”.)10
- A person who has had a child with the respondent, if they have had substantial and regular interactions with the respondent for at least one year.11
** NOTE: people who are not eligible to directly petition courts for a GVRO may also work to share relevant information with a law enforcement officer or other person qualified to submit a GVRO petition.Additionally, people may be eligible to directly petition courts for other protection or restraining orders that include firearm access restrictions and other protections;in California, these include domestic violence restraining orders, elder and dependent adult abuse restraining orders, civil harassment restraining orders, workplace violence restraining orders, and private postsecondary school violence restraining orders.**
If the judge concludes that the respondent poses a danger to self or others (as discussed below), the court may issue a Gun Violence Restraining Order to temporarily suspend the respondent’s legal access to guns, ammunition, and ghost gun kits and components. This order prevents that person from passing a background check to obtain weapons and may also authorize law enforcement to remove any weapons in the respondent’s possession. Like domestic violence restraining orders, GVROs can be issued on an emergency basis upon request from a law enforcement officer. After a noticed hearing, courts may issue GVROs for a period between one and five years.12 Once issued, GVROs may be renewed or terminated prior to their expiration.13
A court may issue an ex parte GVRO, prior to providing notice and a hearing, if the court finds there is a substantial likelihood that the respondent poses a significant danger to self or others in the near future by having legal access to firearms or ammunition and that a GVRO is necessary under the circumstances to prevent such harm.14 To make this determination, the court must examine the petitioner and any available witnesses under oath, or require the petitioner and any witnesses to submit written affidavits submitted under oath.15 This order, if issued, will last 21 days, by which time the respondent should be notified (“served”) and a hearing should be held on whether to issue a full GVRO order.
In more immediately urgent cases, law enforcement officers may also obtain temporary emergency GVROs, if the court finds reasonable cause to believe that the respondent poses an immediate and present danger of harm to self or others and that a GVRO is necessary under the circumstances.16 These emergency GVROs may generally be in effect for no more than 21 days, before the court holds a full hearing on whether to grant a full GVRO.17
Orders after Notice and a Hearing
To initiate the standard GVRO process (for GVROs issued “after notice and a hearing”), an eligible petitioner must file a petition with a court on forms provided by the California court system.18 In most cases, the court is required to provide notice of a hearing to the respondent and hold a hearing within 21 days of receiving the petition.19
At the hearing, the petitioner has the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others by having access to firearms or ammunition and that a GVRO is necessary to prevent personal injury because less restrictive alternatives have been tried and found to be ineffective, or are inadequate or inappropriate for the respondent’s circumstances.
In determiningwhether to issue a GVRO, the court must consider specified evidence, including whether the respondent has:
- Made threats or acts of violence against self or others within the past six months
- Exhibited any pattern of violent acts or threats within the previous 12 months
- Violated domestic violence protective orders
- Been previously convicted for any crime prohibiting the purchase and possession of firearms20
The court may also consider any other evidence that is indicative of an increased risk for violence, such as:
- The respondent’s history of violence or physical force against others
- Unlawful and reckless use of firearms
- Recent acquisition of weapons
- Ongoing abuse of drugs or alcohol21
If, after the hearing, the judge concludes that there is clear and convincing evidence to issue a GVRO, the court will issue a GVRO prohibiting the respondent from accessing or acquiring firearms or ammunition for one year.22 Courts are authorized to issue GVROs after notice and a hearing lasting between one to five years, depending on the court’s determination regarding how long the circumstances giving rise to the GVRO are likely to continue.23
If the court issues a GVRO, it must also order the respondent to relinquish any firearms, ammunition, or ghost gun components that he or she owns or possesses.24 There is no fee for law enforcement to serve the order. When officers do serve the order, they are required to ask the restrained party to relinquish any firearms they own or possess. The respondent is required to immediately relinquish his or her weapons to the officer, upon request. Alternatively, if a law enforcement officer does not serve the order, the respondent is required to sell or temporarily transfer his or her weapons to a licensed firearms dealer or the local law enforcement agency within 24 hours of being served with the order.25 The law enforcement officer or dealer taking possession of the respondent’s weapons is required to issue a receipt to the respondent; the respondent is then required to provide this receipt to the court that issued the GVRO, and to provide a copy of the receipt to the law enforcement agency that served the GVRO, within 48 hours.26 For further information on firearm relinquishment for GVROs in California, see the information and relinquishment forms provided to GVRO respondents by the courts.
California makes it a crime to file a petition for a GVRO knowing the information in the petition to be materially false or with an intent to harass the respondent.29
California law now also generally required all local law enforcement agencies, by January 1, 2021, to develop, adopt, and implement written policies and standards regarding the use of GVROs, including protocols that encourage officers to consider obtaining GVROs in various circumstances, and standards to ensure firearms are removed from GVRO respondents.30.
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- 2014 CA AB 1014.
- Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150; 18170.
- Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(1)(E); 18170(a)(1)(E); 18190(a)(1)(E). Legislation enacted in 2019 authorized law enforcement officers to file GVRO petitions on behalf of their employing law enforcement agency, effective September 1, 2020. See 2019 CA AB 12, amending Cal. Pen. Code § 18109(b).
- Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(1)(A), 18150(a)(3)(defining “immediate family member”); 18170(a)(1)(A), 18170(c)(defining “immediate family member”); 18190(a)(1)(E), 18190(a)(3)(defining “immediate family member”).
- Id. See 2022 AB 2870 broadening the definition of “immediate family member” for these purposes, effective January 1, 2023.
- See Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(1)(F), 18150(a)(4)(defining “roommate”); 18170(a)(1)(F), 18170(d)(defining “roommate”); 18190(a)(1)(F), 18190(a)(4)(defining “roommate”).
- This category of petitioners was added by 2019 CA AB 61 (effective September 1, 2020). See Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(1)(B), (C); 18170(a)(1)(B), (C); 18190(a)(1)(B), (C).
- This category of petitioners was added by 2019 CA AB 61 (effective September 1, 2020). See Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(1)(D); 18170(a)(1)(D); 18190(a)(1)(D).
- This category of petitioners was added by 2022 CA AB 2870 (effective January 1, 2023). See Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(1)(G), 18150(a)(2); 18170(a)(1)(G), 18170(b); 18190(a)(1)(G), 18190(a)(2).
- “Dating relationship” is defined to mean “frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.” Cal. Pen. Code § 243(f)(10).
- This category of petitioners was added by 2022 CA AB 2870 (effective January 1, 2023). Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(1)(H); 18170(a)(1)(H); 18190(a)(1)(H).
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18170; see also, 2019 CA AB 12 (authorizing judges to issue orders lasting up to five years, effective September 1, 2020, instead of a maximum of one year under previous version of the law.
- See al. Pen. Code § 18190.
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18150(b).
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18155(a).
- Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18125, 18145.
- Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18148, 18165, 18195.
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18105. The petition is required to include information about the number, types, and locations of any firearms and ammunition that the petitioner believes are possessed or controlled by the subject of the petition. Cal. Pen. Code § 18107.
- Cal. Pen Code §§ 18150, 18165, 18175, 18195.
- Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(a), 18155(b)(1).
- Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(a), 18155(b)(2).
- Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(c), (d), 18120(a).
- 2019 CA AB 12, amending Cal. Pen Code § 18175(d).
- Cal. Pen Code § 18120(b).
- Cal. Pen Code § 18120(b)(2). The respondent may store his or her weapons with the agency or dealer for the duration of the order.
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18185.
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18185, 18190.
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18200. Petitioners may also be subject to perjury charges for submitting knowingly false information to the courts under oath.
- 2019 CA AB 339