The Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department has filed a gun violence restraining order against a 13-year-old—the second time in recent months a Santa Clara County law enforcement agency has used this tool on a minor. This type of restraining order is normally reserved for violent or suicidal adults.
The department requested the order last week after a local middle school reported the child said he was going to “shoot up the school.” According to court records, the child had talked about harming himself to classmates on an almost daily basis for two weeks.
Los Gatos Police Cpt. Clinton Tada told San José Spotlight the case has been forwarded to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and details of the investigation cannot be released.
“The Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department maintains a collaborative working relationship with our local schools and takes all concerns about school safety very seriously,” Tada said.
The father of the child—who is not being named to protect their privacy—told San José Spotlight his son had no intention to shoot up the school. He said his son had made jokes about killing himself in relation to homework he didn’t want to do.
The father—who voluntarily surrendered an empty shotgun to local law enforcement officials—said he believes the restraining order was an appropriate step, especially given safety concerns following the May 24 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. However, he was shocked to learn his son’s name and case hadn’t been kept confidential in court records.
“I’m glad in a way it happened, it opened his eyes,” the father said. “But if one person saw that and it got out, that could ruin him.”
What is a gun restraining order?
California enacted legislation to create gun violence restraining orders (GVRO) in 2016. Sometimes known as a red flag law, this legislation enables courts to order people to turn over firearms if they pose a risk of harm to themselves or others. These orders are almost always requested by law enforcement agencies, but anyone is allowed to submit one. People who are served with a GVRO must immediately surrender or sell their firearm, and courts have the discretion to bar people from possessing firearms for years.
Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a campaign to promote these orders, noting courts across the state have issued more than 3,000 gun violence restraining orders between 2016 and 2020. The number is also growing: in 2016, the state issued 85 restraining orders; in 2020, it issued 1,284.
Santa Clara County has recorded 172 GVRO cases between 2018 and 2021. At least 51 cases have been filed since the beginning of 2022, according to court records.
Santa Clara County has had at least two cases involving children. In late December, the San Jose Police Department requested a restraining order after a 13-year-old posted a photo on Snapchat of a gun and threatened to bring it to school. Officers later discovered the gun was a toy airsoft rifle, although the child’s father owned real firearms in a locked gun safe.
Veronica Pear, an assistant professor at UC Davis who studies gun violence restraining orders, told San José Spotlight only a handful of minors across the state have been subject to GVROs. She said all of these orders involved children threatening school shootings.
“I think they can be effective even if the respondent is a minor,” she said. “I definitely think they could be used and perhaps should be used in cases of threats and suicide (threats) among young people who have access to firearms, because we do have information that they’re effective at preventing firearm suicides.”
A little-examined question is whether children targeted by GVROs should be identified by name. The minor who received a gun violence restraining order in December was initially named in public records until his attorney petitioned the court to redact personal information. The attorney wrote in court documents he’s never seen a GVRO filed against a child. He argued the lack of confidentiality would harm his client.
“A GVRO is a serious issue that could stain a minor’s reputation, jeopardize their educational situation, and subject them to social ostracism,” he wrote.