Gun confiscation laws are gaining support — here’s how they’ve been used in SLO County

After a 70-year-old Paso Robles man with symptoms of dementia told a neighbor he would “take care of matters himself” if she didn’t stop throwing non-existent objects at his house, a judge ruled police could step in and confiscate his two handguns.

Police had contacted the man 26 times since 2006 and his family told police that his symptoms had gotten progressively worse in recent years.

Because he refused to acknowledge his condition or seek treatment, the man’s family told officers they were “thankful” that a judge authorized officers to confiscate his .40-caliber Glock 22 handgun and .38-caliber Colt revolver, as well as about 200 rounds of ammunition, according to a police report.

The incident in April 2018 was San Luis Obispo County’s first involving a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) that was granted by a Superior Court judge, in which close family or law enforcement may ask taht the person be prevented from possessing or buying a gun or ammunition if they are a risk to themselves or others.

As support for so-called “red flag” laws gains momentum even among conservatives following more recent mass killings involving firearms, San Luis Obispo County has had just three gun violence restraining orders filed since California’s law took effect in 2016, according to information provided by the Superior Court.

Two of those GVROs were filed this year, with the first filed in May 2018. Each were filed by local law enforcement agencies, and two of the cases were filed in response to private citizens’ petition for a civil harassment temporary restraining order, a far more common type of restraining order that are filed in local court every day.

The Tribune is not identifying those who received gun violence restraining orders because the cases involve possible mental illness.

What are GVROs?

California was the third state to adopt gun violence restraining orders for law enforcement in 2016 and the first to extend petitions to include immediate family members and roommates.

A bill to expand that law to also include school workers, employers, and co-workers passed the Assembly in May.

So-called “red flag” laws are gaining support from groups and lawmakers historically opposed to gun regulation following the killings of 30 people in mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month.

According to the California Courts website, immediate family and roommates may request a GVRO from a local law enforcement agency or appear in court to ask a judge themselves.

The request can be made right away against anyone who is a threat to themselves or others. If approved by a judge, the emergency order will last up to 21 days.

After the emergency order is made, a court hearing must be held within 21 days from the time the order was issued by the judge, who can then extend the order to up to one year.

While the order is in place, the respondent of that order cannot possess or purchase any guns, ammunition or magazines and must surrender all firearms to law enforcement or sell them to or store them with a licensed gun dealer.

If they do not surrender the weapons within the time dictated by a judge, they can be charged with a crime and have their weapons seized by law enforcement.

Local cases

In one of two cases from this year, a 62-year-old Arroyo Grande man was arrested Jan. 4 for an alleged DUI, which, if convicted, would have been his fourth, according to the District Attorney’s Office complaint filed in March.

The man was additionally found to be in possession of a short-barreled shotgun, which is illegal in California, the complaint says.

Few details are available in court records, but the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office filed a petition for a gun violence restraining order six days after the man’s DUI arrest.

The man was hospitalized and died in June and his criminal case was dismissed, records show.

In the county’s most recent case from last month, an Atascadero couple with two young children filed a civil harassment restraining order against their neighbor, who allegedly recorded and yelled threats at the family and their pets over her backyard fence and displayed other menacing behavior toward the family over the course of about three months.

According to their petition for a restraining order, the woman told the family she suffered from a mental illness and was “trying to get help.” However, the family requested the order after a neighbor informed them that Atascadero police officers had visited the neighbor in June after learning she had applied to purchase a gun, the petition reads.

According to Superior Court data, the Atascadero Police Department filed a successful petition for a gun violence restraining order against the woman in June, and it remains in effect.

As awareness is heightened about the possession of firearms by people in mental health crisis following three deadly mass shootings in as many weeks, San Luis Obispo has had two other publicized incidents where firearms were confiscated from men who allegedly made threatening statements.

Because both men were charged with crimes, however, police did not need gun violence restraining orders to confiscate the weapons in those cases.

Phares Court008
Daniel Phares, right, pleaded no contest Oct. 30 to a misdemeanor charge of making a criminal threat. He’s pictured here at his August 2018 arraignment with public defender Jeremy Cutcher. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

In October 2018, San Luis Obispo resident Daniel Phares pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of making criminal threats for posts he made on the Facebook page of an August 2017 vigil at Mission Plaza to honor people affected by the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

The terms of his plea also required he give up possession of his three registered firearms — including a tactical semi-automatic AR-15 rifle — for 10 years.

But less than two weeks after his sentencing, Phares was once again charged with a felony count of possessing ammunition. He pleaded no contest to that charge in April. As a felon, Phares may no longer possess firearms or ammunition in California, the District Attorney’s Office said.

Firearms allegedly seized from the home of 62-year-old Richard Vincent Orcutt on June 30. San Luis Obispo Police Department

In June, San Luis Obispo police arrested 62-year-old resident Richard Orcutt after he allegedly sent threatening letters to neighbors and property management companies “stating that he was going to shoot minorities moving into his neighborhood.”

He’s pleaded not guilty to threats and hate crime charges.

More than three dozen handguns, shotguns, and semi-automatic rifles, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition confiscated by the SLO County Regional SWAT Team during a search of Orcutt’s home remain in Sheriff’s Office custody as Orcutt’s criminal case moves through the court.

More information on petitioning for a gun violence restraining order can be found at courts.ca.gov/33679.htm.

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