A new law makes California’s oversight over the booming guard industry one of the strongest in the country. Credit: Sarah Rice for Reveal

Armed security guards in California soon may be required to pass a mental health evaluation if they want to carry a gun on the job.

Under a bill passed by the state Senate on Wednesday, state regulators also would be required to take immediate action against an armed guard if she or she is found to be mentally unstable or a threat to public safety – the kind of oversight requirement that might have prevented accused Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen from getting a license to work as an armed security guard in Florida.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown.

It comes in response to an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that found regulators in California and many other states frequently license armed guards who are poorly trained, mentally ill and prone to violence.

Reveal also found California regulators failed to investigate security guard shootings, permitted guards who shot people to keep their guns and allowed fraudulent firearms training facilities and security companies to keep their licenses.

In addition to requiring a mental health evaluation similar to a test used by regulators in Oklahoma, the bill also requires other changes spurred by Reveal’s reporting.

Under the proposed law, regulators would be able to take immediate action against armed guards if they’re arrested for violence or if an employer or member of the public reports unstable or threatening behavior. Both security companies and security guards would be required to report the firing of a gun to the state Bureau of Security and Investigative Services and would face increased penalties if they failed to submit reports. The agency also would be required to inspect all licensed firearms training facilities.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to veto or sign the bill.

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

Shoshana Walter

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.