A law in California that took effect this year is intended to keep guns out of the hands of people like the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooter: They’re suspected to be violent but convicted of no crime.

The gun violence restraining order law allows law enforcement officers or family members to ask a judge to approve gun restrictions. If the judge finds that the person has threatened violence or acted in a violent manner, his or her right to buy a gun may be taken away temporarily and his or her guns can be confiscated.

The law was spurred by the 2014 Santa Barbara-area mass shooting by Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured more than a dozen others near a college campus.

As in the Orlando case, Rodger drew the attention of law enforcement and his mother, but he avoided the kind of criminal charges that would create a barrier to buying or owning guns.

Rodger had encountered deputies over a fight with a roommate, a conflict at a party and a check requested by his concerned mother, according to an extensive report from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. He went on to stalk a college campus and kill six people before turning the gun on himself.

The FBI twice opened probes into Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people and injured 53 others in Orlando early Sunday. His former wife also told reporters that Mateen was violent and beat her. With no arrests or restraining orders on record, though, nothing was in place to stop Mateen from buying a gun.

Such gun-related restraining orders exist only in California and Indiana, said Lindsay Nichols, a senior attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. But several states, including Washington, Illinois and New Jersey, are considering them. They’re the kind of common-sense measure the nation needs, she said.

“I think state lawmakers need to start taking serious action,” Nichols said. “We need to quicken the pace because people are dying on a daily basis in this country. While we have slow progress that is happening, we cannot continue this way as a country.”

The California gun restraining order lasts 21 days and can be extended for up to a year. Nichols said the law was not controversial. Legislative records show that law enforcement agencies – including the California Police Chiefs Association – backed it.

Christina Jewett can be reached at cjewett@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @By_CJewett.

Christina Jewett

Christina Jewett is a reporter for Reveal, covering labor and workplace issues with a focus on the workers' compensation system. With reporting partner Will Evans and CNN, she exposed widespread fraud and failed government oversight of California’s network of addiction treatment centers for the poor. The stories led to the defunding of more than 200 rehab clinics and changes in state law. The Emmy-nominated series won the 2013 broadcast award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. Jewett – as part of California Watch, a project of The Center for Investigative Reporting – won the 2011 George Polk Award for medical reporting with Lance Williams and Stephen K. Doig. The series exposed outsized rates of rare but lucrative medical conditions at a rapidly growing hospital chain and spurred a federal investigation. She was also a Livingston Award finalist in 2010. Previously, Jewett worked at ProPublica and The Sacramento Bee, where a story she broke about contracting malfeasance led to arrests and convictions. She and a colleague also chronicled jail abuse and medical mistreatment, spurring countywide policy reforms. Those stories were honored with awards from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Jewett is based in Sacramento, California.