Steps to Effectively Enforce Gun Laws

May 18, 2021

Last year, California judges issued a record 1,285 gun-violence restraining orders under the state’s red flag gun law, which enables family members and law enforcement officers to request that courts order the removal of firearms from dangerous people.

The Little Hoover Commission emphasized the crucial importance of taking guns away from those convicted of domestic violence offenses in its recent report, Beyond the Crisis: A Long-Term Approach to Reduce, Prevent, and Recover from Intimate Partner Violence. While the Commission focused on different gun laws in its report – not the “red flag” statute -- the record number of orders last year highlights the urgent need for California to fully enforce its current gun laws. In many cases, the Commission found, help cannot come soon enough.

Each year, more than 600 women across the nation are shot to death by their intimate partner. More than 1 million women in the U.S. have survived a shooting attempt by their partner, while nearly 5 million women have reported being threatened by a partner wielding a firearm. Innocent bystanders – children, family members, coworkers – are often caught in the crossfire. A 2014 study found that 20 percent of deaths in intimate partner homicides were people simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a quarter of these were children.

In its report, the Commission found that California currently has a solid legal framework in place to remove firearms from people who cause harm. Lawmakers have taken numerous actions over the years to strengthen state gun laws by expanding upon many provisions included in federal law, such as:

  • Prohibiting individuals with convictions for assault, battery, and stalking misdemeanors from possessing firearms and ammunition.

  • Removing firearms and ammunition from all people convicted of a domestic violence offense or who are the subject of a domestic violence protective order, regardless of their relationship to the victim.

  • Allowing family members, teachers, and employers to request a temporary emergency request for a protective order, known as an ex parte prohibition, if they are subjected to troubling behavior.

The problem, however, is implementation of these laws. Databases used by the California Department of Justice to track individuals prohibited from owning guns are technologically outdated, and are unable to automatically cross-reference each other for firearm eligibility data and alert agents at the DOJ to potential firearms owners who may no longer be eligible to own them. Making matters worse, the DOJ faces a critical shortage of special agents to carry out the perilous work of locating and retrieving the weapon. Low entry-level pay and a months-long onboarding process results in many would-be agents taking jobs with other law enforcement agencies that offer higher salaries and a quicker start date.

Addressing these problems is essential to ensure that firearms are immediately taken away from those ineligible to own them. In Beyond the Crisis: A Long-Term Approach to Reduce, Prevent, and Recover from Intimate Partner Violence, the Commission outlines steps lawmakers can take now to help the state overcome these challenges:

  • Identify ways to expedite modernization of DOJ databases safely and affordably, while providing the support necessary to make it happen.

  • Increase the pay of DOJ personnel responsible for tracking down and retrieving firearms to make the positions more competitive with other law enforcement agencies.

Removing firearms from dangerous individuals as quickly as possible is imperative to protect innocent Californians, particularly those experiencing abuse from an intimate partner. The Commission’s recommendations can help the state effectively enforce its gun laws and promote a California that is safer for everyone.

Sign up to receive email updates on specific study topics here or stay up-to-date with our efforts by following us on our social channels: