Study: California’s ‘Red Flag’ Law Has Helped Prevent Mass Shootings

The new study shows the importance of having the means to get guns out of the hands of dangerous people before it’s too late.

Study: California’s ‘Red Flag’ Law Has Helped Prevent Mass Shootings

Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs)—often known as “red flag laws”—empower families and law enforcement to prevent gun tragedies by temporarily restricting access to guns for individuals at an elevated risk of harming themselves or others.

A recently published study suggests California’s “red flag” law, which aims to reduce gun violence, has helped prevent mass shootings. 

Researchers at UC Davis School of Medicine studied the state’s Gun Violence Restraining Order law (GVRO), which went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, reports KTVU.

According to the California Courts website, a GVRO is a court order that prohibits someone from having a gun, ammunition or magazines.

Only a close family member — including a spouse, parents, children, siblings, grandparent, or person who has lived in your house for at least six months —  or a law enforcement officer can ask a judge for a GVRO.

If a judge approves a GVRO, you can ask your local Sheriff or Marshall to serve the order on the person for free.

UC Davis researchers broke down 21 cases in which a GVRO was issued and found the law may have been a big part in preventing mass shootings. In those 21 cases, 52 firearms were recovered.

“As of early August 2019, none of the threatened shootings had occurred, and no other homicides or suicides by persons subject to the orders were identified,” researchers said.

Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, the lead author of the study, told Time Magazine that while it’s impossible to know whether the suspects would have led a mass shooting, the cases show how the orders helped reduce risk of violence in California and elsewhere.

Since Connecticut passed the first “red flag” law in 1999, 14 other states, plus the District of Colombia, have enacted some version of an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), or “red flag” law.

“We can’t prove that the orders in these 21 cases — that these orders prevented the shootings as opposed to something else, or that the shooters actually didn’t intend to go through with it. But I think that faced with the next mass shooting, I would be recommending an ERPO filed with all the force I could muster,” Wintemute said.

In California, the GVRO was enacted after a man killed six people at U.C. Santa Barbara in 2014. The shooter’s family had reported their concerns of the shooter’s potential violence, but police said they had no authority to take his weapons.

Wintemute said that California should have done more to promote the GVRO law when it was first introduced.

“If people make threats, I think it’s incumbent on all of us to take those threats seriously and report them to professionals who are in a position to evaluate them more accurately than we laypeople can do and are in a position to do something about it,” he said.

Wintemute and his team of researchers plan to collect data about GVROs throughout the state and hopes it teaches the lesson that any person can help prevent gun violence.

About the Author


Katie Malafronte is Campus Safety's Web Editor. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2017 with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Writing & Rhetoric. Katie has been CS's Web Editor since 2018.

2 responses to “Study: California’s ‘Red Flag’ Law Has Helped Prevent Mass Shootings”

  1. Dr Zach Campbell says:

    Per the author of the study…
    “It is impossible to know whether violence would have occurred had ERPOs not been issued, and the authors make no claim of a causal relationship,”

    This isn’t a “study”. It’s a report of EPROs in California. That’s it.

    This was a study of 421 ERPOs, the author chose to only list 21, and included two suspected terrorist plots, and nearly all of the cases involved specific threats, which are already crimes in California and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A felony conviction or even indictment would itself result in a federal prohibition on the acquisition or possession of firearms.

    11 of the cases actually did lead to arrest, however there is no mention of what happened in five cases.

  2. Dr Zach Campbell says:

    Taking away someone’s firearms doesn’t prevent that person from being a danger to themself or others. In fact, it leaves someone who could be in mental crisis without treatment.

    But an ERPO makes you feel like you “did something”… but what did you ACTUALLY do?

    Did you take their vehicle away?
    Did you take their kitchen knives away?
    Did you prevent them from purchasing alcohol?
    Did you prevent them from buying gasoline?
    Did you prevent them from buying a propane tank and matches or a lighter?

    Most importantly, did you get them to a mental health facility for treatment?

    No. No, you didn’t.

    West Virginia addressed this kind of issue long ago. Current WV law is superior to any Red Flag law. . A mental hygiene hearing is an immediate process, where the person, not the firearm(s), is detained, provided representation, and at that time a determination is made if they actually pose a risk.

    So, what if someone is sane, but they made terroristic threats? It’s a felony in WV to make terroristic threats, even jokingly.

    To advocate for or support “Red Flag” laws, to bypass due process, is unnecessary, unconstitutional, and makes a travesty of the legal system. Most importantly they do NOT address the potential for an extreme underlying mental health condition or get that person the treatment they need.

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