Asm. Low Bill to Restrict Firearm Possession of People At Risk of Harming Themselves or Others

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

SACRAMENTO—Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) introduced legislation today to restrict firearm possession among people admitted under a 5150 hold, an involuntary psychiatric hold for individuals at risk of harming themselves or others. AB 1968 would permanently remove the firearms of someone who has been placed on a 5150 hold twice in one year and prohibits the admitting facility from filling out the petition form on the individual’s behalf. The individual could still petition the court for a hearing to have his or her guns returned.

“People at risk of harming themselves or others should not have easy access to firearms,” said Assemblymember Evan Low. “Research shows that suicide with a gun is the most common and by far the most lethal suicide method. Just having a firearm in the home is a strong predictor for gun suicide. AB 1968 tightens our laws to keep firearms out of the hands of people who may be suicidal or violent. Restricting their access to firearms could save lives.”

A 5150 is named after the section of the California Welfare and Institutions code that authorizes people who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others to be placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold for 72 hours.

Under current law, people who are admitted under a 5150 hold have their firearms taken away for five years but the law allows for them to petition the court for a hearing to have their guns returned. Anecdotal evidence indicates that some mental health institutions fill out the petition on behalf of the individual upon release. Under current law, hearings must take place within 30 days of the petition’s submission, which is often not enough time to obtain the necessary medical and psychiatric records and prepare for the hearing.

Assembly Bill 1968 permanently removes the firearms of an individual who has been placed on a 5150 hold twice in one year, with the option to petition the court for a hearing to have them returned. The admitting facility would be prohibited from filling out the petition form on the individual’s behalf, and the petition would include an authorization for the release of the person’s medical and mental health records to the appropriate district attorney. The hearing would take place within 60 days of receipt.

The bill is supported by the California District Attorneys Association. “It’s important that California has clear procedures in place to help keep firearms out of the hands of mentally ill individuals found to be at risk of harming themselves or others.  AB 1968 gives prosecutors more time to access and review information that is critical to our ability to thoroughly vet and defend against petitions submitted by individuals who may pose such a risk.  This is an important bill that will help us protect those who are at risk of harming themselves or others and ultimately protecting all members of our communities and making California a safer place,” said California District Attorneys Association President Todd Riebe, Amador County District Attorney.

The 5150 statute deals particularly with people having acute mental health episodes and allows the state to evaluate the individual in question. In addition, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention mental health afflictions are a leading contributor to suicide, and 51% of suicides are committed with firearms.

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