On May 23, 2014, an Isla Vista resident killed six people on a shooting and stabbing spree: George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Weihan “David” Wang, Katherine Breann Cooper, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez and Veronika Weiss.
Prior to killing the six UC Santa Barbara students, the killer took to social media to express suicidal and homicidal ideations. Once the killer’s family discovered the posts, his mother called law enforcement to warn them about his behavior.
Though law enforcement was aware of the potential danger the killer posed, there were no laws empowering them to remove firearms from the killer’s possession. Following the 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy, California passed red flag laws allowing law enforcement and family members to petition judges for temporary firearm removal should the firearm owner pose a danger to themselves or others.
On May 25, U.S. Congressman Salud Carbajal and Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2021 (ERPO) — legislation offering federal funding to states that adopt red flag laws which allow family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily disarm individuals who are a threat to themselves or others.
“We had a significant loss of life. After the tragedy, what we learned about the perpetrator is that there were circumstances that if the red flag law were in place, it might have been prevented because the tools provided to law enforcement would have had the ability to temporarily take guns away from the perpetrator,” Carbajal said. “[The 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy] along with my own personal experience of a family member who took their lives with my father’s revolver I think was the impetus for my proposing this legislation.”
The legislation was originally introduced in the 115th Congress, then in the 116th Congress and — now, again — in the 117th Congress. Through all the revisions, the legislation went through significant changes. For example, following revisions, the legislation enhanced “the capacity of law enforcement and state/local courts by providing personnel, training, technical assistance, data collection, etc.,” according to Isabelle Bock, legislative correspondent and press assistant in Carbajal’s office.
In addition, the newer revisions include providing training for judges, court personnel, healthcare professionals, legal professionals and law enforcement officers on intrinsic bias, de-escalation and crisis intervention, service providers appropriate for the specific situation and how to appropriately apply ERPO in a situation involving domestic violence.
Bock said that law enforcement and family members must provide evidence for courts to consider whether or not an individual poses a risk to themselves or others and must have their firearm removed prior to a court ruling.
Evidence courts would consider whether an individual has made threats or acts of violence against one’s own self or others in the past six months, exhibited a pattern of violent behavior or threats in the past 12 months, violated domestic violence protective orders or been convicted of any crime which bans the purchasing of firearms. The courts may also consider evidence indicating an individual is at an increased risk for violence including a history of violence, unlawful and/or reckless use of firearms, recently purchased weapons and ongoing alcohol and drug abuse.
The firearm would only be temporarily removed from an individual and returned once the order prohibiting an individual from owning a firearm is over.
“[ERPO] is going to allow due process to go before a court and to get a restraining order that would allow for the temporary removal of firearms and the temporary banning of someone being able to purchase guns during that period,” Carbajal said.
“[ERPO] will continue to be a tool to families, law enforcement, campuses, the broader community, the state of California and our entire country to broaden the toolbox to give family, loved ones, law enforcement more opportunities to save lives,” he continued.
Richard Martinez, father of Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez and gun safety advocate with Everytown, said that gun safety measures — like the red flag laws enacted in California following the 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy and Carbajal’s legislation — are all necessary to reduce gun violence.
“Strong gun safety measures work. They reduce gun violence. There’s not one gun safety measure that can solve it all. But that shouldn’t stop us, as we’re doing in California, to work successfully to reduce gun violence so that kids like my son Chris are not shot and killed as we’re talking today,” Martinez said.
By introducing this legislation, Carbajal hopes to prevent future mass murder by incentivizing states with federal funding to develop and adopt red flag laws.
“We stop the potential mass murder of innocent people in communities. And that’s what this legislation will do. My legislation incentivizes states and communities throughout the country by being able to receive grant funding to develop red flag laws in their own states and communities and to provide funding for the training of law enforcement and the judiciary to make sure that everything is connected and is well coordinated and worked effectively like for instance in the state of California,” Carbajal said.
A version of this article appeared on p. 8 of the Sept. 23, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.