Study: State's 'red flag' gun law may stem mass shooting risk

A new study suggests California's so-called "red flag” law, aimed at reducing gun violence, has played a role in preventing mass shootings. 

The study by researchers at UC Davis School of Medicine took a close look California's Gun Violence Restraining Order law (GVRO), which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

The policy allows a law enforcement officer or a family member to seek a court injunction to remove firearms from people who pose a significant threat to themselves or someone else.

In preliminary findings of their study, UC Davis researchers broke down 21 cases in which a gun violence restraining order was issued and found that the law may have been instrumental in preventing potential mass shootings.

In all, a total of 52 firearms were recovered in those 21 cases.

"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.  

The cases involved situations in which a workplace was targeted, school or children targeted, medical or mental health conditions were factors, or the threats were motivated by political, social, or domestic reasons.

"In these cases, GVROs allowed for immediate intervention to reduce firearm access, in most instances because of timely reports from threatened parties and members of the public," the study said.

Researchers did acknowledge the limitations of the study, noting, "It is impossible to know whether violence would have occurred had GVROs not been issued."

Researchers stressed that more evaluation is needed but said the findings serve as some of the first evidence that the restraining orders could play an important role in preventing mass shootings in California and elsewhere.

The law was authored by then state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, following the Isla Vista shooting rampage in 2014, in which a 22-year-old gunman killed six people and injured 14 others near the UC Santa Barbara campus, before turning the gun on himself.

“The UC Davis study shows the importance of having a tool to get guns out of the hands of dangerous people before it’s too late,” State Sen. Skinner said. “It’s imperative that here and across the country we do whatever we can to prevent more mass killings.”

This story was reported in Oakland, Calif.