What is a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO)?
In many high-profile shootings, family members of the shooters saw their loved ones engage in dangerous behaviors and grew concerned about their risk of harming themselves or others– even before any violence occurred. In fact, it is common for family to be the first to know when loved ones are in crisis in many incidents of interpersonal violence and suicide that take place across this country every day. The Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) offers family members, household members, and law enforcement a tool for temporarily preventing access to firearms by these loved ones in crisis.
A GVRO is a civil court order, signed by a judge, that temporarily prohibits someone (the “subject”) who is at risk of hurting themselves or others from possessing or purchasing any guns or ammunition.
By intervening to temporarily remove guns and ammunition already possessed and prohibit new gun and ammunition purchases, the GVRO creates safer circumstances for the individual to seek treatment (e.g., for substance abuse, mental disorders) or engage other resources to address the underlying causes of the dangerous behaviors. The GVRO is based on the long-standing infrastructure and procedure of domestic violence laws (in place in all 50 states) and involves a court hearing and clearly defined due process protections. Individuals have been able to apply for GVROs in California since January 1, 2016. Since then, over a dozen other states have adopted laws similar to the GVRO, some of which are known as “extreme risk laws” or “risk protection order laws”. These laws are often referred to in the media as “red flag laws,” however we do not endorse the use of that term as it may be interpreted as stigmatizing towards people with mental health disabilities (see “Why not use the term Red Flag Law”).
Why is a GVRO needed?
Some individuals in crisis and at risk of harming themselves or others may not be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition because:
- They haven’t been convicted of a prohibitory crime;
- They aren’t subject to a domestic violence restraining order; or
- They don’t meet the criteria for an involuntary hospitalization civil commitment for mental health treatment (5150), or, if they do, family members are hesitant to commit their loved ones.
A GVRO offers family members, household members, and law enforcement a judicial pathway for temporarily removing firearms and prohibiting future gun purchases. While a GVRO is in effect, an individual in crisis can safely access help and care that could stop a violent situation from occurring.
How does a GVRO help people in crisis stay safe?
The GVRO helps family members, household members, and law enforcement protect a loved one who is dangerous to themselves or others by temporarily prohibiting them from accessing guns. It requires temporary removal of guns, ammunition, and magazines from the subject of the order and prohibits new purchases for the duration of the order. This creates safer circumstances for the individual to seek treatment, stabilize their behavior, or access resources to address the underlying causes of their dangerous behaviors.
How does a GVRO work?
A family member, household member, or law enforcement officer can request that a civil court in their jurisdiction issue a GVRO based on the facts they present through a formal, written application, and/or at a hearing before a judge. This does not involve a criminal complaint, and seeking a GVRO does not preclude the petitioner from seeking any other available legal remedy. Specifically, the court process for obtaining a GVRO is as follows:
After the petition is filed, a judge considers the information presented by the petitioner and assesses whether the person is at risk of harming themselves or someone else. If issued, a temporary GVRO will be in effect for 21 days or less. If the subject does not own or possess firearms, he or she is prohibited from purchasing any firearm and ammunition for the duration of the order. If the subject does own or possess firearms, he or she must relinquish them for the duration of the order. The subject of the petition is also prohibited from purchasing new firearms or ammunition.
Within 21 days and before the temporary GVRO expires, a subsequent hearing will take place in which both the petitioner and the subject of the petition have an opportunity to be heard and to address the allegation of dangerousness. If after the hearing the court determines that the subject of the petition is dangerous, the order prohibiting the purchase and possession of firearms will be extended for up to one year.
Firearms surrendered under the GVRO may be held by law enforcement, sold to a federally licensed firearm dealer, or held by a federally licensed firearm dealer. If at the expiration of the order the subject of the petition is not otherwise prohibited from purchasing a gun and a new GVRO has not been issued, all firearms will be returned.
What can and cannot a GVRO do?
A GVRO is a court order that:
- Orders the subject of the petition to surrender all firearms and ammunition they have in their possession; and
- Prohibits the subject of the petition from purchasing or obtaining any guns and/or ammunition for the duration of the order.
A GVRO only places restrictions on possession of firearms and ammunition for a defined period of time. It does NOT:
- Require the surrender of other weapons, such as knives; or
- Protect the petitioner in other ways, such as barring contact or keeping the person from coming near the petitioner. For personal protection from a family member (or household member), you should proceed under the Domestic Violence Protection Act. See Form DV-500-INFO (Can a Domestic Violence Restraining Order Help Me?) for more information.
Who can petition for a Gun Violence Restraining Order?
You can ask (petition) the court for a Gun Violence Restraining Order if you are an “immediate” family member or household member of the subject of the petition. Immediate family members and household members include the subject’s:
- Spouse (by marriage or not) or domestic partner.
- Parents, children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren and their spouses, including any stepparent or step-grandparent.
- Spouse’s parents, children (subject’s stepchildren), siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren.
- Any other person who lives in or regularly resides in the household, or who, within the last six months, lived in or regularly resided in the household.
In addition, law enforcement officers may petition for GVROs. If you are not a family or household member, you can inform law enforcement if a person is at risk of harming themselves or others with a gun, even if the person does not currently have access to guns, and an officer may investigate and file a petition if they find that grounds exist.
There are three types of GVROs that may be issued in California:
Emergency GVRO (form EPO-002): An emergency GVRO is a type of order that only law enforcement officers can request. This is available to officers when they encounter a person who poses “immediate and present danger of injury to self or others as a result of having a gun” and the requesting officer concludes that an emergency order is needed to effectively intervene. This emergency order is issued verbally by a judge (whom the officers may call 24 hours a day, seven days a week), is effective immediately, and expires after 21 days. The issuance of an emergency GVRO does not preclude a law enforcement officer or family member from petitioning for a standard temporary GVRO, or a one-year GVRO. Because the emergency GVRO requires ‘immediate and present danger,’ it will be requested by law enforcement at the scene of the emergency and issued to the officer orally by the judge. The officer will then memorialize the order on form EPO-002. When an emergency GVRO is filed with the court, a hearing will be scheduled within 21 days to decide if a one-year order is necessary.
Temporary Gun Violence Restraining Order (form GV-110): Both law enforcement officers and immediate family members (defined above) of the subject of the petition may petition for a temporary Gun Violence Restraining Order. The petitioner fills out paperwork that explains to a judge why the person may be dangerous. The judge may issue a temporary GVRO when there is a “substantial likelihood” that the subject “poses a significant danger of harm to self or others in the near future by having access to a firearm.” Temporary GVRO petitions are typically decided on the same day they are filed and may be in effect for up to 21 days. A hearing will be scheduled by the court within 21 days of the judicial officer’s decision to approve the temporary GVRO or not, at the subsequent hearing, the court will decide if a one-year order is necessary (see below).
Gun Violence Restraining Order After Notice and Hearing (form GV-100): A one-year Gun Violence Restraining Order may be obtained after a notice to the subject and court hearing in which the petitioner is able to demonstrate “clear and convincing evidence that the subject poses a significant danger of injury to self or others.” Temporary and emergency orders may also be extended into a one-year GVRO if approved by a judge after notice to the subject and a subsequent hearing. One-year GVROs can be renewed before they expire (see “Can a GVRO be renewed?” below).
How do courts assess “dangerousness”?
Judges make the decision whether or not to issue a GVRO. By law, they must consider several indicators of dangerousness:
- Recent threat or act of violence directed toward self or others
- Violation of a protective order currently in effect or unexpired
- Conviction for any crime that prohibits purchase and possession of firearms under California law
- Patterns of violence or threatened violence within the prior 12 months directed toward self or others
In making GVRO decisions, judges may also consider additional evidence of an increased risk for violence, including, but not limited to:
- Reckless firearm behaviors
- History of threatened, attempted, or actual physical force against another person
- Prior arrest for a felony offense
- History of violation of a protective order
- Records demonstrating abuse of alcohol or controlled substances
- Whether the subject of the petition has acquired guns, ammunition, or other deadly weapons within the prior six months
What are the effects of a Gun Violence Restraining Order on the restrained person?
GVROs place temporary limits on access to firearms and ammunition to keep people safe when they are in crisis.
The subject of the petition will be required to surrender any firearms or ammunition they currently possess for the duration of the order. If he or she does not willingly surrender these items within 24 hours of the order, a search warrant may be issued and they will be removed by law enforcement.
The subject of the petition will be temporarily barred from purchasing firearms or ammunition while the order is in effect.
If the subject of the petition violates the restraining order, call the police. He or she can be arrested and charged with a crime.
How do I file a GVRO petition as a family or household member?
If you are a family or household member, you may file a petition for a Temporary GVRO by following these general steps:
- File a form GV-110 requesting a Temporary Firearms Restraining Order, which is a type of GVRO that lasts 21 days. This must be done in person in a Superior Court and cannot be done online. The form can be downloaded and filled out beforehand. Find contact information for your local court (California only) here.
- If the subject of the petition is known to have firearms by the petitioner, then when bringing a petition for any type of GVRO, the petitioner must describe in the petition the number, types, and locations of any firearms and ammunition presently believed to be in the subject of the petition’s possession or control.
- The judge will decide whether or not to make the order, typically within 24 hours.
- If the judge grants the temporary order, he or she will issue an order that lasts 21 days (or until an earlier court date).
- Whether or not an order is approved, the judge will set a date for a hearing to review the petition. If the petitioner wishes to obtain a one-year GVRO, then they must attend the scheduled hearing.
Note: if the order is approved, the petitioner’s identity will be made known to the subject via identifying information within the order. If you wish to remain anonymous, request that law enforcement file for a GVRO.
- The subject of the petition must be “served” in person with a copy of all gun violence restraining order papers. The petitioner may request that a sheriff or marshal serve the order to the subject, which they will do at no cost. See this document for more information GV-200-INFO.
Note: The Judicial Council of California recommends that you have law enforcement serve the order and that you do not serve the papers yourself or have a friend or family member do so.
- The subject of the petition has the right to file a response to the GVRO prior to their court date if they disagree with the order, using form GV-120, Response to Petition for Gun Violence Restraining Order.
- Every court in California has a self-help center which may be able to assist you; click here for more info: http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-selfhelpcenters.htm
The petitioner must be present at the court hearing. If the petitioner is not present, no order will be issued. The subject may or may not be present at the hearing. They are requested to attend the hearing but are not required to do so. At the hearing, the judge will hear evidence on the subject of the petition’s dangerousness to decide to continue or cancel the temporary order. If the judge decides to extend the temporary order, the Gun Violence Restraining Order will last for one year.
How do I file a GVRO petition as a member of law enforcement?
Law enforcement officers may file petitions for any of the three types of GVROs:
- If someone is an immediate threat to themselves or others, a law enforcement officer may request an emergency GVRO by filling out a form EPO-002 and requesting approval from a judicial officer either in writing or orally at any time of day (generally over the phone).
- A temporary, 21-day order (non-emergency order), may be obtained by filing a form GV-110, which will be decided during normal court hours.
- At a subsequent hearing, a court will decide if a one-year GVRO is necessary. Law enforcement officers and individuals requesting a one-year order must fill out a form GV-100.
- See this page for more information on these items: www.speakforsafety.org/obtain-a-gvro-law-enforcement/.
The Judicial Council of California recommends that law enforcement officers always serve gun violence restraining orders (including when petitioners are not law enforcement). An officer serving any gun violence restraining order shall:
- Ask the restrained person if he or she has any firearms, ammunition, or magazines in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control.
- Order the subject to immediately surrender all firearms, ammunition, and magazines to him or her.
- Issue a receipt to the subject for all firearms, ammunition, or magazines that he or she has surrendered.
- Complete a proof of personal service and file it with the court. Form GV-200 should be used for this purpose.
- Within one business day of service, submit the proof of service directly into the California Restraining and Protective Order System (CARPOS), including the serving officer’s name and law enforcement agency.
Is a Search Warrant needed to take away firearms from the subject of a GVRO?
If a person who has been served with a gun violence restraining order refuses to surrender any firearm or ammunition, the officer may obtain a search warrant from the court which issued the order.
The officer serving the warrant shall take custody of any firearm or ammunition that is controlled, possessed, or owned by the person who is the subject of the gun violence restraining order, including any discovered pursuant to the warrant, a consensual search, or other lawful search.
Can the subject of the petition contest a GVRO?
If the subject of the petition disagrees with the order, he or she may file a response to the court prior to their court date using form GV-120, Response to Petition for Firearms Restraining Order. The subject of the petition also must attend their court date.
How does the subject of the petition turn in firearms and ammunition that they possess?
If demanded when a law enforcement officer serves a court order requiring surrender, the subject of the petition should give all firearms (including handguns, rifles, shotguns, and assault weapons) and ammunition to the law enforcement officer immediately. Otherwise, within 24 hours:
- Turn them in to the local law enforcement agency (call them ahead of time to ask about their procedures and bring a copy of the order with you. When transporting, go directly to the law enforcement agency, do not bring your firearms elsewhere); or
- Sell them to a licensed firearms dealer; or
- Store them with a licensed firearms dealer.
Keeping receipts is important. The subject of the petition is required to submit form GV-800, Proof of Firearms Turned In, Sold, or Stored to the court issuing the order within 48 hours, and to include the receipt(s) as proof of sale or payment for storage. A copy of the receipt(s) must also be filed with a law enforcement agency if they served the order.
If firearms are not willingly surrendered, a search warrant may be issued and the firearms subsequently removed.
How does a person get their firearms back?
A GVRO is a time-limited order. At the end of the order, if an extension is not issued, the subject of the petition must take action by asking the court to prompt firearms restoration. A background check is run and if the subject of the petition does not have another prohibition from purchasing or possessing guns, then all firearms and ammunition that were relinquished or removed will be returned to him or her, and his or her ability to purchase new firearms and ammunition will be restored.
Can a GVRO be renewed?
You may request to renew a one-year GVRO within the three months before the expiration of the original one-year GVRO. A GVRO may not be renewed after its expiration. The judge will use the same criteria as when deciding the initial order to determine if a GVRO is still necessary. Click here to learn more about this process.
Note: The expiration date of an one-year GVRO is the one-year anniversary of the hearing in which the order was approved. Therefore if the order was approved on March 15, 2018, the petitioner may request to renew the order beginning on December 15, 2018, and the renewal must be approved no later than March 14, 2019.
What if the person requesting the order is under the age of 18?
If the person requesting the order is under 18, a guardian (parent or legal) would have to file the petition on their behalf.
Why not use the term Red Flag Law?
As extreme risk laws like the GVRO have gained nationwide attention, many media outlets and policymakers have begun using the term “red flag laws” as a catch-all phrase for these orders. However, this term can mischaracterize the way these orders intervene to protect individuals while also stigmatizing individuals with mental health disabilities. This mischaracterization both undermines the effectiveness of these laws and reinforces the false concept that people with mental disabilities are more inclined towards violence when they are in fact more likely to be victims of violence (as shown in numerous studies). Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and others also oppose the use of this term. We suggest using the term “extreme risk laws” instead of “red flag laws.” To read more about this subject, please check out this op-ed from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Will there be a filing fee or court fee?
No. As of 2019, all court and filing fees have been eliminated for petitioning for a gun violence restraining order. This includes any fees associated with having law enforcement serve a GVRO. (See SB-1200 for more information.)
How can a GVRO be served?
All types of gun violence restraining orders can be served by a sheriff or marshal for free (as required by California law). The Judicial Council of California recommends that “you should always ask your local law enforcement agency to serve your papers on the person you want to restrain” (http://www.courts.ca.gov/33679.htm). When serving the order, law enforcement will ask the subject for his or her firearms, magazines, and ammunition, and the subject must surrender them to the officer. The officer must then fill out a “Proof of Personal Service” form GV-200 and give it to you.
Can someone other than Family and Household Members or Law Enforcement Petition for a GVRO?
A conservator of a person may also petition for a GVRO as a family member would.