In 2014, California enacted an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law.1 California’s law refers to these orders as Gun Violence Restraining Orders or GVROs and has been in effect since January 1, 2016.2
California’s law authorizes law enforcement officers and other specified categories of people to file petitions for a civil court order called a GVRO to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms when they are found to pose a significant risk to themselves or others by having legal access to firearms or ammunition.3
Eligible petitioners include:
- A law enforcement officer (or, effective September 1, 2020, an officer may file a petition in the name of their employing law enforcement agency);4
- Family and current or recent household members of the person named in the petition.5
- Effective September 1, 2020, the employer of the person named in the petition, or a coworker, who has had substantial and regular interactions with the person for at least one year if the coworker has obtained approval from the employer to file a GVRO petition;6
- Effective September 1, 2020, an employee or teacher at a secondary or postsecondary school that the person named in the petition 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.7
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 and ammunition. 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 one year;8 effective September 1, 2020, courts will also be authorized to issue GVROs for between one and five years in certain circumstances.9 Once issued, GVROs may be renewed or terminated prior to their expiration.
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.10 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.11 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.12 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.13
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.14 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.15
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 determining whether 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 firearms16
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 alcohol17
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.18 Effective September 1, 2020, courts will be 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.19
If the court issues a GVRO, it must also order the respondent to relinquish any firearms or ammunition that he or she owns or possesses.20 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.21 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.22 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.25
California law will also generally require 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.26.
For more information about ERPO laws, visit our Extreme Risk Protection Orders policy page.
- 2014 CA AB 1014.
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18122.
- Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a), 18170.
- 2019 CA AB 12, amending Cal. Pen. Code § 18109(b).
- The law authorizes “immediate family members” to serve as petitioners but defines that term to mean “any spouse, whether by marriage or not, domestic partner, parent, child, any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree, or any other person who regularly resides in the household, or who, within the prior six months, regularly resided in the household.” See Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(2), 18170(b) (referencing definition in Cal. Pen. Code § 422.4(b)(3).
- See 2019 CA AB 61, repealing and replacing Cal. Pen. Code § 18150.
- See 2019 CA AB 61, repealing and replacing Cal. Pen. Code § 18150.
- Cal. Pen. Code § 18170.
- 2019 CA AB 12.
- 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