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A California legislator has done the seemingly impossible and united mental health professionals, gun rights organizations, and the ACLU against a proposed law. This legislation would open the door for people to be stripped of their Second Amendment rights without due process and based simply on an allegation from a co-worker, boss, or school official that they believe the person might be dangerous and might have access to a firearm.
Assemblymember Ting’s AB 2607 expands the categories of people who can apply for a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) to include employers, co-workers, school employees, and any “mental health worker” who has seen or worked with a person in the prior six months. Hearings for GVRO’s are held ex parte, meaning that the subject is not present or able to contest the allegations against them. It is ridiculous that potentially hundreds of people would have the right to secretly petition the government to strip a citizen of a constitutional right without that citizen’s knowledge. Is this California in 2016 or the Soviet Union in the 1960s? If someone maliciously applies for a GVRO against a person there is little consequence to the reporter (a misdemeanor charge that would be difficult to prove), which would encourage harassment and abuse.
If the GVRO is granted, the first the subject will know about it is when law enforcement officers show up at their home to confiscate their firearms. It’s not a stretch to see how many ways such an interaction could go sideways and innocent people could be hurt or killed.
Firearms Policy Coalition’s Craig DeLuz illustrates this well:
The constitutional issues are just the tip of the iceberg with this ill-conceived law.
Because of its vague language, the bill could subject “mental health providers” to liability. In a letter to lawmakers, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists pointed out:
There is no clear guidance on when a provider could apply for a GVRO — is it if the patient is a harm to themselves or others or simply if the patient seems agitated or upset? The lack of clarity leads to misunderstandings, unnecessary breaches of confidentiality and frivolous (but damaging) lawsuits against providers.
Additionally, as CAMFT writes, there are already provisions in existing laws allowing providers to breach confidentiality and contact law enforcement if they feel a patient is a harm to themselves or others. And what is a “mental health worker?” Is it a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor, or does it also include any person who works at a mental health provider’s office or hospital?
On school campuses and in workplaces, such legislation could have a chilling effect. If a professor knows their student has a firearm, and the student then talks about having a difficult time after a breakup or failed exam, will that professor feel obligated to seek a GVRO against the student? Will a jealous co-worker attempt to obtain a GVRO out of spite?
Ting’s bill could be taken up this week in the California Assembly. With its clear constitutional issues and unanswered questions — and disapproval from across the spectrum of affected parties — California lawmakers should do the right thing (yes, I know that’s hoping for a lot) and throw this bill in the shredder, where it belongs.