California law provides specific steps that courts and law enforcement must take to remove firearms from a restrained party in the case of a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. Just as it is important for service providers to know how processes are supposed to work, it’s vital to know how to support survivors when processes vary or when a different approach may be better.
Access our printable toolkit for more information on understanding and supporting firearm relinquishment policies.Download
The procedural pathway of a DVRO case is different from the procedural pathway of a GVRO case. In both situations, the following procedures should occur by law enforcement:
The local county sheriff/ marshall is required to serve orders for free. Ideally, orders should be given by law enforcement because of the high risk of danger when the restrained person has firearms.
Law enforcement is required by law to ask the restrained person to turn over any firearms and ammunition they own or have in their possession or control, and are required to remove any firearms or ammunition in plain sight.
If law enforcement does not ask for firearms, or the restrained person does not provide them, the restrained person has 24 hours to sell or store their firearms and ammunition with a licensed firearms dealer or relinquish them to law enforcement.
There are a number of situations where firearm relinquishment procedures may not happen the way they should. These situations are an opportunity for service providers to educate survivors and advocate their behalf within the court and law enforcement systems in their communities.
One common variation is whether law enforcement is involved when serving a copy of any restraining order. Many survivors do not want to interact with law enforcement and sometimes relying on law enforcement is not practical or timely.
These reasons might lead a survivor to rely on another person to serve their orders.
If utilizing law enforcement to serve the DVRO is not viable, the next preferred alternative is hiring a professional, registered process server.
The least desirable option is using a friend, family member, co-worker or other adult.
Anyone who is over the age of 18 and is not protected by the order can legally serve the orders on the restrained party. For detailed information on the requirements of service please see Form DV-200-Info.
There are two limited exceptions when the court may allow a person restrained by a DVRO to continue to possess, control and sometimes own a firearm and ammunition:
In both situations an exception can only be granted by a specific order the judge makes after a hearing. The exceptions are not automatic and the court is not required to grant them.
Please note that this is a technical and complicated area of law – if you are working with a survivor whose abusive partner is a peace officer or works in a job that requires them to carry a firearm, you should speak with an attorney in your area about how to best address any requests for an exception.
Once a person subject to a GVRO or DVRO has been properly served with the order restraining them, they are given notice of all the things they are prohibited from doing for as long as the order remains in effect.
If the restrained person engages in one or more of the things that are prohibited by the order, including owning, possessing or controlling firearms or ammunition, the restrained person is in violation of the GVRO or DVRO.
Violations of either type of order are a criminal offense that can result in the restrained person being arrested and convicted criminally.
Orders are effective until either the expiration date written on the order or until a judge modifies or terminates them.
Violations can result in the restrained person being ordered to pay penalties, face contempt of court charges, or be charged with a crime and prosecuted under state or federal law.
Service providers can play a meaningful part in improving the local enforcement of firearm relinquishment in a variety of ways.
Giving survivors clear and digestible information about how these processes should work, what the law actually requires, and how processes can fail or be manipulated is critical. Outside of direct survivor support, service providers can take steps that have larger, systemic impacts on improving enforcement of firearm relinquishment orders.
Building strong working relationships with local law enforcement is one way to make progress on a system-level. Providers can also do outreach with the local prosecutor’s office, local court system and attorneys, and child or adult protective services.
Service providers can join local or regional task forces, multi-disciplinary teams, or collaborative groups focused on addressing gun violence in their communities.
Service providers can reach out to other organizations doing similar work in their area to build knowledge, leverage shared information and resources, and approach problems collectively.