A bill that would require armed-guard applicants to undergo mental health evaluations is making its way through the California Senate.

If approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown, the new law would make numerous changes to the regulation and oversight of security guards in the state:

  • Security guard applicants would be required to undergo mental health evaluations by licensed psychologists before they receive firearms permits. Applicants also would be required to submit an affidavit signed by the psychologist to the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.
  • Both security companies and security guards must report the discharge of a firearm to the bureau.
  • The bureau would be required to conduct inspections of all licensed firearm training facilities.

The proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, follows a state audit and a Reveal investigation, which found that armed guards rarely are vetted for mental health problems before being granted permission to carry guns. Reveal also found that the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services has failed to track security guard shootings and conduct timely and thorough investigations.

The bureau already has implemented some changes. In response to questions from state senators following the Reveal investigation, the bureau began tracking security guard shootings.

According to a recent report submitted to the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, between July 1, 2014, and March 1, 2015, the bureau received 54 reports of violent incidents involving security guards. Nearly half of those cases – 24 – involved shootings by armed guards.

Earlier this week, state senators passed the bill, SB 468, out of the economic development committee. Its next stop is the Appropriations Committee.

This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick.

Shoshana Walter can be reached at swalter@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

Correction on Jun 16, 2015

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated who is required to file discharge reports in California. Both security guard employers and employees are required to file the reports. 

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Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.